FBA’s fiber training program picks up steam – will it be enough?

Adoption of a new fiber technician training program launched by the Fiber Broadband Association (FBA) earlier this year is beginning to snowball, as the telecom industry scrambles to bridge a labor gap. But questions still linger about whether FBA's and other training efforts will be able to boost the labor pool enough to meet operator demand as fiber rollouts accelerate next year and beyond.

FBA’s latest win centers on the Mid-Atlantic U.S. The Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives (VMDAEC) and Virginia-based telecom construction firm S&N Communications announced plans to expand their existing workforce training collaboration to jointly offer FBA’s Optical Telecom Installer Certification (OpTIC Path) program. The first run of the course will start in early 2023 and be available not just to VMDAEC-member employees but to any individual sponsored by a cooperative or company.

Andy Gibson, Senior Director of Fiber Optic Services at S&N Communications said in a statement the program “will enable us to address the immediate need for qualified technicians to build reliable, high-speed fiber broadband networks and also support the long-term need for ongoing network management expertise.”

VMDAEC is the latest to pick up FBA’s program. Since making its debut in March, FBA’s course has been adopted by Bossier Parish Community College (BPCC) in Louisiana, Alcorn County Electric Power Association (ACE Power) in Mississippi and Northeast Mississippi Community College. All told, FBA said the program is being offered or considered by more than 40 educational institutions and employers across 32 states.

FBA is among a number of entities attempting to rapidly train the workforce required for accelerated and large-scale fiber deployments in the U.S. In April, AT&T and Corning teamed to offer a new fiber training program. And last month, the Communications Workers of America union announced it was expanding a fiber apprenticeship program in California and eyeing the launch of a nationwide offering.

According to MoffettNathanson’s count, operators have announced plans to deploy fiber to nearly 10 million new locations in 2023 alone. But the analysts added they expect there will be a gap between this vision and reality, thanks in part to labor constraints.

“We are quite skeptical that the industry can meet these volumes; the availability of labor and equipment simply aren’t likely to be sufficient,” they concluded. “We further expect some overbuilding plans to be scrapped entirely, given the sharp rise in both WACC [weighted average cost of capital] and labor costs in the time since these plans were first announced.”