Fiber Optic Association launched

With the goal of promoting professional development for individuals working in the fiber-optic industry, The Fiber Optic Association Inc. (FOA) has opened its doors to members.

Lynn Haber

With the goal of promoting professional development for individuals working in the fiber-optic industry, The Fiber Optic Association Inc. (FOA) has opened its doors to members.

Spearheaded by Jim Hayes, a 15-year industry veteran and president of Fotec Inc., a Boston-based fiber-optic test equipment company, FOA is a nonprofit organization that targets individuals who share a desire to enhance the profession via education, certification, networking and dissemination of information relevant to fiber-optic technology.

With the installation of fiber-optic media reaching critical mass in the cable-TV, telecommunications and computer industries, Hayes believes the time is ripe for a professional organization. He estimates the number of electricians and copper-cable installers at 750,000 and 100,000, respectively; on the other hand, there are approximately 20,000 fiber-optic installers. "Probably only 4000 to 5000 of those people are solely involved with fiber," Hayes adds.

FOA`s activities

The FOA, with its certification program and other activities for professional development, hopes to facilitate the expansion of fiber to the desktop, as well as to the home. The organization will be involved in a number of areas, including:

-Development of a Fiber U training program that includes teaching, texts and curriculum

-Administration of a certification program

-Maintenance of a database of certified individuals for professional reference

-Maintenance of a calendar of training courses

-Publication of a newsletter covering industry events, training programs and other information of interest to members

-Creation a speaker`s bureau for trade shows and conferences.

The professional organization is being modeled after that of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. for people in the electronics industry and the Society of Cable Television Engineers for individuals in the cable-TV industry.

Initially, a critical objective of the FOA is certification of the 20,000 professionals in the fiber optics field. "Contractors, installers, consultants and sales personnel need some way of establishing professional credibility with potential customers," says Hayes. "End users of fiber optics want to know that people who are doing the installation know what they are doing."

Certification gives installers something to show potential customers; it also contributes to professional confidence and gives potential employees a yardstick of demonstrated knowledge and competency. "Vendors also support industry certification because it gives them a pool of technically qualified people to tap into when they need to refer customers to installers," says Hayes.

By establishing levels of core competency for fiber-optic professionals, the FOA aims to bolster the perception of the industry and those who work in it, to help the industry grow, to help individual businesses grow and, ultimately, to help members earn more money.

Today, there is no standardized education, training and testing for people working with fiber optics. Hayes started to address this problem three years ago, by establishing Fiber University (or Fiber U), a training program open to those associated with the industry. Along with four other educators in the field, he is working to create a unified program of education and testing, which will ultimately lead to certification.

Levels of certification

Different levels of certification are being developed, each based on knowledge, training and experience. Level 1, designed with installers in mind, focuses on extensive knowledge of fiber optics technology and applications. At Level 2, the installer will have to demonstrate successful completion of hands-on training. Level 3 certification covers experience in the industry and has yet to be defined. The certification levels will be rolled out as they`re developed.

After an education, training and certification program is in place, the FOA will take it to professional training organizations, colleges, universities and adult education programs.

FOA membership is open to anyone with an interest in fiber optics technology and costs $50 per individual and $20 per student. There are no corporate memberships. Certification testing will cost $125 to $175. The price of the training component varies widely; training is free for those who already possess fiber optics knowledge and experience, or for those who choose to self-educate. Formal training can cost several thousand dollars.

For more information about the Fiber Optic Association, call: (800) 503-4237.

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