Inside and outside the classroom, training moves forward

Technological developments mean new material in training sessions, and new means of delivery

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Technological developments mean new material in training sessions, and new means of delivery.

Patrick McLaughlin

By now, it is old news to talk about the speed with which technology changes. But like most overused expressions, "the only constant is change" is still used because it is still true. And this reality affects the cabling industry in many respects, including the training that is provided to professionals in the trade.

Certainly, what is taught by industry vendors and by independent training organizations must reflect the latest technological information in order to be of high value.

"All our training is standards-based," says Walter Havran, who is responsible for training at Tyco Electronics' AMP Netconnect (Harrisburg, PA). "And when standards change, our training must change with them. For example, as new connectors are specified, we must incorporate them into our programs. Maintaining an up-to-date curriculum is a job that never ends."

But even though the constantly evolving details of the cabling industry have made it a tough job to provide an up-to-date training program, other forms of technological advancement have actually made the delivery of training easier.

"The presentation of our training programs has changed dramatically," Havran notes. "When it comes to visuals, for example, the use of digital photography has enhanced our ability to provide images of real-world applications.

"In the 12 years I have been responsible for administering training programs, the presentation has gone from transparencies on overhead projectors to LCD projectors and laptop computers, with the ability to incorporate that digital imagery."

Information needs met

The topic of residential wiring has gained significant attention lately, and several research firms are predicting rapid growth for the home-networking market. Not surprisingly, residential wiring has also gained attention from commercial cabling systems installers, who see a new revenue stream developing. And training providers maintain that there is a significant need for information about the business of residential wiring.

"A frustration with home networking is that many people cannot get all the technology to work together," says Helen Heneveld, a partner with residential-technologies training firm The Training Dept. (Tucson, AZ). And she would know. In 1989, Heneveld founded TALI, a company focused exclusively on fully integrated residential electronics systems that she operated until 1997.

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Collaborative classroom training, shown here, can be complemented by the video- and Web-based learning opportunities now widely available.
Click here to enlarge image

"If you want an example of the need for training with respect to home networking and its technologies, look at the cable companies trying to put in cable modems and the telephone companies trying to offer DSL [Digital Subscriber Line] service," she says. "In the residential environment, we are seeing a convergence with computers, telephone, and audio/video equipment. The key is to get them all to work together. In order to do that, people must learn across disciplines, then learn how to make those disciplines work well together. Training is becoming a hot topic because there will be quite a shortage of it as this market develops."

The Training Dept. primarily offers training videos, which Heneveld says can be categorized into three types: training courses, skill builders, and consumer-based education.

Training courses, which are typically 2 to 3 hours in length, include three parts. The first part lays the groundwork for the knowledge being imparted; the second part covers principles, planning tools, and demonstration procedures; and the third part provides footage of actual applications. The company's most recent offering, Residential Retrofit Wiring, is one of the company's training courses.

Skill-building videos, Heneveld says, are 30- to 60-minute primers or refreshers for trainees who are skilled professionals. Among The Training Dept.'s offerings are videos on testing, tools, and how to cut speakers into walls. And consumer-based educational videos "explain technologies in plain language," Heneveld says. The intention is to familiarize consumers with different technologies so they can be informed when beginning the purchasing process.

Other forms of delivery

Why has The Training Dept. chosen to produce most of its material on video? "The VCR is a common denominator," Heneveld says. "Virtually everybody has access to one, personally, and in a professional environment." By the end of this year, she says, the company also plans to have at least one product on DVD. "We are also looking into putting our programs on the Internet," she says, "but there are some problems associated with that. Mainly, you can't always show video well over the Internet. And seeing the process in motion is much more valuable than still images."

Other organizations have begun to use the Web as a training medium. BICSI (Tampa, FL) recently launched a residential-cabling course that is available via its Web site. "There is a great desire for people to have this type of training," says Richard Dunfee, the organization's training program manager. "Many professionals, especially cabling installers, simply cannot take time away from their jobs to attend an off-site training course. A lot of companies that can't take the time still need the knowledge, so this Web-based course can help."

The course covers the Telecommunications Industry Association/Electronic Industries Alliance (TIA/EIA-Arlington VA) 570-A Residential Telecommunications Cabling Standard. It is organized into six modules: grades of residential cabling (there are two); single-residential-unit cabling; multitenant and campus infrastructure; component specifications; installation requirements; and residential system testing. The training delivered through the online course can be considered "static" information, which need not be compromised by being delivered over the Web.

Learning as time permits

"We did not have to sacrifice anything in terms of content by delivering this information over the Web as opposed to delivering it in a classroom," Dunfee notes. Of course, a classroom environment invites student/instructor interaction as well as peer-to-peer conversations among students. But a benefit of this and other Web-based training-which is also a benefit of video-based training-is at-your-pace learning.

"The real bang for your buck when it comes to videos is tied to employee turnover," Heneveld says of her company's offerings. "If you get a video that provides the information you want your employees to know, you can play that video for every new employee, either one at a time or in groups. With the rate at which employees turn over, training videos are extremely cost-effective."

Despite the apparent surge in electronic-based training options, and the attention being paid to them on these pages, they do not replace hands-on training. "All our courses are about 85% hands-on," says AMP's Havran. "Most of that is with connectors or other devices. To meet the overall training goals, the objectives are to have trainees actually do the work associated with each device."

In fact, hands-on and electronic-based training can be offered in forms that complement rather than compete with each other. The Training Dept.'s Heneveld says many students who attend her company's classroom-style courses subsequently buy videos. And the company's skill-builder-type videos are intended for professionals who have experience in their crafts-not individuals new to the industry who need to start with the basics.

And BICSI provided classroom/ hands-on training for years before introducing their recent Web-based course and video. BICSI's newly introduced video, Introduction to Commercial Voice/Data Cabling Systems, is aimed at cabling companies' support staffs, sales and marketing employees, as well as customers. It takes viewers on a narrated tour of a commercial cabling installation. The package includes a study guide that can be used in conjunction with the video, or as a standalone textbook.

As the ability to deliver video over the Web develops, trainees may see more Web-based learning opportunities. In the meantime, the Web-based courses that are available have their own attributes, perhaps most significantly the flexibility of self-paced learning.

Training videos, while not a new concept, continue to grow as evidenced by several new introductions. And they provide flexibility similar to that of Web-based training. But regardless of how advanced other training forms become, it is highly likely that there will always be a need for cabling professionals to put their hands on the materials they will be using in a classroom or lab-type environment.

Now playing...

Helen Heneveld's comment about VCRs being the lowest common denominator in many training situations apparently is embraced by several other training organizations.

For example, The Light Brigade (Kent, WA) offers 25 titles divided into two series: How-To and Technology. The How-To videos demonstrate step-by-step instruction used in completing different tasks, while the Technology videos provide explanations of fiber-optic disciplines. The titles available on video are also available on CD-ROM.

The company says that through its videos, it can provide demonstrations that would be difficult or even impossible to portray in a classroom environment. Many of the videos deal with intricacies of outside-plant fiber-optic cable installation.

Recently, The Light Brigade began offering video and CD-ROM products in German and Spanish language editions.

Additionally, PennWell, the company that publishes Cabling Installation & Maintenance, introduced a video series in 1999. The Cable-Pulling Series is a four-part video set designed as a training device for commercial-cabling installers who are new to the industry. The four videos cover prepulling/planning, horizontal pulling, riser pulling, and work-area pulling.

How to get more info

More information on the training opportunities mentioned in this article is available from the individual companies' Web sites:
Cabling Installation &
The Light
The Training

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