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Online Telecommunications Degree Program

January/February 1999 IBEW Journal

Seeks to Bolster Ranks of Trained Technicians

For years now the entire world has been living in the midst of a technology driven information revolution. Rapid change in technology and the development of new products and services have created a huge demand for skilled workers in the telecommunications industry, one of the most technologically advanced in the world. Yet industry growth is occurring just as a large percentage of the industry's current technicians become eligible for retirement over the next 5-10 years. Where will telecommunications companies the troops to staff the revolution in the future? A new online program offers IBEW telecommunications members and others the opportunity to receive a college degree that will help them obtain the technical jobs that are in demand in the industry.

The IBEW has joined with the Communications Workers of America (CWA), Bell Atlantic, GTE, Southwestern Bell Company (SBC) and US West to form an unprecedented, industry-wide partnership to help the telecommunications industry find the skilled workers it will need over the next decade. The partnership is called the National Advisory Coalition for Telecommunications Education and Learning (NACTEL) and includes the nonprofit Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL), the national leader in reducing barriers to adult learning, and Pace University in White Plains, New York, a leader in developing online educational programs.

NACTEL is working with the nonprofit organizations and higher education providers to create an Associate's Degree in Telecommunications that can be pursued via computer. The online degree has been launched through a pilot program that began in January 1999. Initially, it will be available only to workers in the participating companies , but eventually will also be available to individuals who wish to enter the industry. NACTEL expects to start the program with 100 students in 1999 and expand to 1,000 students in the second year, and 3,000 students in the third year. The degree includes courses in technical math, telecommunications, electronics and networks.

Development of the program was spurred by the telecommunications industry's need for skilled technicians who can provide the sophisticated services that enable telephones, caller ID, voice mailboxes, Internet services, fax machines, modems, wireless communications and other technologies to work. NACTEL obtained a $500,000 grant on October 22, 1998 from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation which provided the base funding to implement the degree program.

The online degree will have the stamp of approval of a broad spectrum of the industry, rather than just one union or company. Students can log on at any time of day or night and any day of the week to pursue their studies. This opens up opportunities for workers to pursue the high-tech jobs that are and will be a major portion the economy. The partners in NACTEL hope that the program will help avert a future shortage of skilled workers in one of the country's most important industries.

As was the case in many industries thirty years ago, telecommunications technicians learned on the job, and companies and workers could afford to invest in long training times because the technologies that workers learned lasted for years. Unions and companies agree that now technology in the telecommunications industry changes so fast, workers cannot learn everything they need on the job.

"Lifelong learning is the key to the future. That is why the IBEW supports programs such as NACTEL. Our members know that education and training are lifetime pursuits, necessary to keep them marketable in a changing economy," said IBEW International President J.J. Barry. "NACTEL is the pioneer program that may encourage other industries to follow a path to skill upgrades that has an easily accessible, quality curriculum for our members."

Pamela Tate, president of CAEL agrees that the degree has significance beyond the telecommunications industry because it creates a new educational option for adults. "This degree represents the future direction of lifelong learning in our country," she says. "Our experience shows that working adults often want to grow professionally, but have problems finding educational opportunities that fit their needs."

In the recent past, individual unions and companies have worked with community colleges and other educational institutions to develop degrees in telecommunications, but these educational opportunities are still few and far between. The telecommunications industry needs thousands of skilled technicians spread out over a huge geographic area.

We're moving beyond traditional workplace training to offer a telecommunications degree on-line to thousands of technicians throughout the country," said J. Randall MacDonald, GTE executive vice president, human resources and administration. "With the booming growth of the telecommunications industry, it's critical that we help employees develop the skills to deliver the technologically sophisticated services our customers demand."

The three biggest barriers that adults face in pursuing education are money, time and knowledge of where to go to get the skills they want. The online degree will remove latter two of those barriers. First because the degree will have the maximum flexibility for fitting it into student's busy schedules, even if they work nontraditional shifts. Second, because it will reflect the needs of industry employers, the degree will provide a clear direction for workers who want to develop careers in telecommunications. For many workers currently in the telecommunications industry, the financial barrier has already been removed through company education benefits that have been bargained by the unions.

For further information on NACTEL, click here.

Who Is Currently Eligible for the NACTEL Program?

As the NACTEL program gets underway, only members of those locals representing workers at the participating telecommunications companies are eligible to participate. The IBEW and the other partners want to expand the opportunity to pursue the degree to all members and others wishing to enter the industry. For now, members of the following IBEW telecommunications locals are eligible to enroll in the program.

Bell Atlantic/NYNEX Local Unions

Local Union 827, East Windsor, New Jersey
Local Union 1944, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Local Union 2213, Washington Mills, New York
Local Union 2222, Boston, Massachusetts
Local Union 2320, Manchester, New Hampshire
Local Union 2321, Middleton, Massachusetts
Local Union 2322, Middleboro, Massachusetts
Local Union 2323, Cranston, Rhode Island
Local Union 2324, Springfield, Massachusetts
Local Union 2325, Worcester, Massachusetts
Local Union 2326, Montpelier, Vermont
Local Union 2327, Augusta, Maine

GTE Local Unions

Local Union 21, Downers Grove, Illinois
Local Union 51, Springfield, Illinois
Local Union 89, Seattle, Washington
Local Union 126, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Local Union 196, Rockford, Illinois
Local Union 204, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Local Union 257, Jefferson City, Missouri
Local Union 289, Durham, North Carolina
Local Union 463, Glasgow, Kentucky
Local Union 543, San Bernardino, California
Local Union 702, Frankfort, Illinois
Local Union 723, Fort Wayne, Indiana
Local Union 824, Tampa, Florida
Local Union 949, Burnsville, Minnesota
Local Union 986, Norwalk, Ohio
Local Union 1106, Mason, Michigan
Local Union 1357, Honolulu, Hawaii
Local Union 1431, Sumter, South Carolina
Local Union 1451, York, Pennsylvania
Local Union 1635, Johnstown, Pennsylvania
Local Union 1637, Erie, Pennsylvania

SBC (Pacific Telesis) Local Unions

Local Union 1011, San Francisco, California
Local Union 1269, San Francisco, California
Local Union 2139, Los Angeles, California

U S West Local Unions

Local Union 206, Helena, Montana
Local Union 1269, San Francisco, California