The state of Vermont is accepting registrations for a new broadband installer apprenticeship training program, kicking off March 16, as the state looks to head off a fiber workforce shortage.

Nicole Ferraro, Editor, host of 'The Divide' podcast

March 5, 2024

4 Min Read
Pipes being laid to bring fiber communications to residential buildings
(Source: Kiryl Balbatunou/Alamy Stock Photo)

The state of Vermont is currently taking registrations for a new Broadband Installer Apprenticeship training program, set to kick off virtually on March 16, with in-person classes starting thereafter. The new program is aimed at helping the state get ahead of a workforce shortage as funds from the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program start to accelerate broadband builds around the country.

"We're not experiencing real workforce delays at this point, but we know it's coming," said Christine Hallquist, executive director of the Vermont Community Broadband Board (VCBB), in a conversation with Light Reading.

The new apprenticeship course offered in Vermont is using the Fiber Broadband Association's (FBA) Optic Path educational materials and certification. FBA officially launched its educational course in 2022, in an effort to help train a new cohort of entry-level fiber technicians in the lead-up to BEAD.

Now, according to FBA's VP of research and workforce development, Deborah Kish, Vermont is one of 40 states working to roll out the Optic Path program, alongside 44 service providers and 70 community colleges and training institutions. Since its inception, the Optic Path program has seen approximately 263 graduates, a number Kish says FBA expects to grow to over 1,042 by the end of 2024.

Related:Looking ahead: Building up the fiber workforce

Course specifics

Vermont's course does not have a learning institution attached but will be taught by a former Verizon employee with 15 years of experience as a fiber splicer, said VCBB's communications manager, Herryn Herzog.

The course comprises 120 hours of instruction overall (40 hours virtual and 80 hours hands-on in class), where trainees will be taught lessons in safety, how fiber optics work, how a fiber broadband system is built and what fiber splicing entails. They'll also engage in hands-on training covering how to splice fiber optic cables, how to build a system, and how to test and troubleshoot problems. Materials for the course are being supplied by communications equipment manufacturer Wesco.

The new apprenticeship course is the first such program the state has offered, after an effort to launch one last year hit a series of delays, noted VCBB's Herzog. The program, which will host classes on a monthly basis, is being funded with a grant from the Vermont Labor Department.

"We applaud Vermont on its fiber technician program and its support of the apprenticeship model. It will bring valuable workforce development to the state, new career opportunities to residents, and the technical force to build fiber broadband networks and connect every community to reliable internet," said FBA's Kish in an emailed statement to Light Reading about Vermont's forthcoming program.

Related:The Divide: FBA's Deborah Kish on filling out the fiber workforce

Filling the slots

Finding participants who want to enter the fiber field can be difficult in itself. 

"We have not as an industry done a very good job at keeping interest in the industry alive and well and in the limelight for young people. So we're having a really difficult time attracting the younger generation," Kish told Light Reading last year.

Attracting new people to the fiber workforce is a particular challenge in a state like Vermont, which has an unemployment rate of about 2%, which is lower than the national average. "When you get below 4%, you really have a hard time finding people. So we had to get creative," said VCBB's Hallquist.

One way the state has sought to grow participation in its program is by directly recruiting women. To do that, the state broadband office has leveraged its relationship with Vermont Works for Women: an organization that provides career programs and opportunities for women.

"These women are awesome. They're tough. They want to get out there. They want to get work," said Hallquist, adding that VCBB sees this partnership as a chance to change the face of a male-dominated field. "We have a problem that created a great opportunity."

According to VCBB's Herzog, the apprenticeship program will have room for up to 12 students at first. As of this writing, she said four have enrolled so far but that the state is "expecting more from a couple of organizations we've been working with."

Further, with broadband deployment projects ongoing throughout Vermont – and set to ramp up with the state's $228.9 million BEAD allocation – program graduates will have immediate opportunities for employment.

"We have employers waiting to employ graduates of the program," said Herzog.

About the Author(s)

Nicole Ferraro

Editor, host of 'The Divide' podcast, Light Reading

Nicole covers broadband, policy and the digital divide. She hosts The Divide on the Light Reading Podcast and tracks broadband builds in The Buildout column. Some* call her the Broadband Broad (*nobody).

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