Broadband Boot Camp Provides Into to Growing Field at WITCJune 25, 2019
Korbett Hunter held a section of what appeared to be a wire so thin that it was barely visible. However, it was not wire at all, but a glass fiber optic line, and Hunter’s task was to splice a couple of ends of it together. That’s where a device called an Optical Fusion Splicer came in.
It was another day at the Broadband Boot Camp that wrapped up June 20 at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College. Made possible by a federal IMPACT grant, the goal of the classes that started June 10 was to introduce people to the work and opportunities in the broadband industry. As fiber optics are increasingly used to carry internet, telephone, television and data signals, demand for workers in the industry is high.
The hope is that the boot camp experience will encourage students to enroll in a WITC Broadband Academy program or to seek a position with a company that will offer additional training, according to Dan Schullo, coordinator of the program.
“We are introducing them to broadband,” Schullo said. “The boot camp condenses an eight-week class down to eight days so they get a grasp of some of the fundamentals of the industry.”
And one of the fundamentals is splicing together fiber optic lines. It’s a relatively simple procedure that people can be trained to do, even if they don’t have extensive background in technology.
“I’ve held many jobs, from warehouse work to driving truck – mostly labor-type operations,” said Hunter, who came to the area three years ago and now lives near Trego. “Unfortunately, my computer skills are weak.”
“We have a Learning Resource Center at WITC that can help with students’ skills, and we have online help, too,” Schullo said.
“I thought this was something I could do to take me to the end,” said Hunter, 58. “I’ve enjoyed it. Everyone has been extremely friendly and helpful.”
Hunter, like others in the class, came through a referral from Workforce Resource, a regional workforce development agency that works with the unemployed and under-employed.
Among them is Brad Wilkinson of River Falls, who attended the in-class sessions of the boot camp at the WITC-New Richmond campus. He will soon be a victim of the closing of Shopko stores.
“I’ve been working retail for 18 years and this is the third time the store I’m working for is going through liquidation,” said Wilkinson, 40. “I thought it was time to look into other things.”
Workforce Resource’s presence at a job fair for displaced Shopko workers led him to the boot camp.
“It was something related to an area I’m interested in,” Wilkinson said. “When I was a student at UW-River Falls, I worked at the IT help desk. It is a lot of material, but it is extremely interesting, and it’s exposing me to the programs available at WITC. Broadband is one of the areas I’m considering.”
“I spent most of my life outside working,” said Jeff Wilson, 54, of Hayward. “It was time I started looking into other things.”
Wilson noted his first introduction to what was involved in the boot camp was looking inside the box that contained the wi-fi connections in the Workforce Resource office.
“This is giving me a feel for what they’re doing in broadband,” Wilson said. “I’m understanding it pretty well. I’m thinking about signing up for the classes.”
“I was interested in broadband to begin with,” said Brady Hrdlicka, 18, of Rice Lake. “I love technology, and when I saw this on the WITC website, I thought I would give it a try.” He added that he plans on enrolling in the Broadband Academy in the fall.
The boot camp included lab time and much online study, and some field trips. On June 17 the group toured Mosaic Telecom in Cameron.
“We went to see what the workplace was like and the opportunities available,” Schullo said. “Mosaic is really focused on providing fiber optics to the home. There are some telecommunications companies out there that are really hurting for people.”
Greeting the group during the tour was Mosaic CEO Scott Behn, who is departing for a job in Iowa. He noted that Mosaic has been a strong supporter of the broadband and other technology programs at WITC.
“It allows us to continue to have a pipeline of educated future employees,” Behn said. “Even the people we are not able to hire here raise the level of the expertise in the entire industry. It benefits everyone. Besides technicians, we’re looking for people who can communicate with businesses in our sales force and customer service.”