On-the-job training (JT) in the datacom industry

Generally, I'm not a fan of on-the-job (OJT) training for technical work. It's great (even necessary) as a supplement to other training, but it's usually not sufficient as a stand-alone method.That said, there's a lot of OJT going on in the datacom business arena. When you need an installer, it's often difficult to find someone who's already trained. Of course, you don't have time to wait for the

Generally, I'm not a fan of on-the-job (OJT) training for technical work. It's great (even necessary) as a supplement to other training, but it's usually not sufficient as a stand-alone method.

That said, there's a lot of OJT going on in the datacom business arena. When you need an installer, it's often difficult to find someone who's already trained. Of course, you don't have time to wait for the employee to go to school. Hence, OJT can be a necessary evil.

There are two critical parts to OJT: covering all the important information and effectively teaching this information. Let's see how to do this.

What to teach The most important technical concepts you'll have to convey to your trainees include the following.

Basic cabling techniques. How to secure cables, pull cables through raceways and trays, install fire-stopping, protect cables, locate outlets, install boxes, etc. If your trainees already know power wiring, you can skip these issues. If not, you'll have a lot of training to do. If they don't know how to install cable, they're going to make a lot of mistakes (understandably). Power-trained installers or not, all of your trainees will have to become familiar with Article 800 of the NEC.

Basic termination techniques. Punching-down conductors, installing modular connectors, pairing of conductors under EIA/TIA 568 and other standards, staying within the 13mm untwisting limit, leaving extra cable at termination points, etc.

Cable and conductor identification. Explaining the importance of identification and your company's specific marking schemes.

Testing. Wire mapping, attenuation, and cross-talk are just the beginning. Your trainees must also know what a decibel is and how decibel measurements work. They need to understand what cross talk is, what inductance and capacitance are, and what NVP is. Also, power sum, ACR, and other concepts are important. This one will take a while.

Documentation. The trainees must understand the importance of documentation and your specific methods of doing it.

The difference between signal loss and signal degradation. Attenuation (loss of signal) and signal distortion are very different things, even though both will crash a network. Your student must understand why a distortion in the network's square-wave pulses will shut down the system, even though plenty of signal is getting from point A to point B.

Categories and levels. How are they changing, and how are they defined? What's the difference? What kind of systems do you use? Remember, just using Category 5 cable does not give you a Category 5 system-you must also use Category 5 components.

Basic networking. Why are networks used, and what for? What are topologies, and what is Ethernet? Explain how signals are transferred from one computer to another. What is a "server"?

Basic computer communications. Your trainee should understand what binary code is, and why it's used. Also, he or she must know what a NIC card is, and how to install one.

Basic software. How does it work and how is it used?

Basic hardware. The trainee must know how to deal with a punch-down block, a patch panel, and a main cross-connect.

Working in a telephone closet. The new installer must gain familiarity with telephone closets, know how to deal with cramped conditions, and be able to work in a combined power/telephone closet without getting hurt.

What's the 25-lb tension limit? Why does too much tension untwist the cables? Why does this untwisting alter the signal transmission characteristics?

EIA/TIA 568 specifications. What are the attenuation and cross-talk limits? What are the cable types, pin usage, and color codes? What are horizontal and vertical cabling, backbones? How much separation is needed from power conductors, and what are minimum bending radii?

Basic digital telephony. What are ISDN, ADSL, and T1 telephone lines? What are points of demarcation and protectors? What's the difference between point-to-point lines and switched service lines?

Basic Internet. What is it, how do we connect to it, and why does it matter? You might also want to explain how an Intranet works.

What is expensive, and what is not? What is a $5 mistake and what is a $5000 mistake? Remember, your trainee is worried about burning up something that is very expensive.

What belongs to the customer and what belongs to the contractor? Who paid for what, and who is responsible for what?

Fiber optics. If you do optical fiber work, you'll have to either get or do a lot of specific training. We're not covering optical training in this article. Optical technology is not especially difficult, but it is different and new.

How to do it Obviously, there is a lot of information here for you to cover. Once you have someone who's competent to teach all of this, you then have to get the information transferred to the student. Assembling the information is the easy part; transferring it is the hard part.

If you're involved in training new people, you're taking on a big and important job. Here are some ideas that may help you.

Repetition. Don't think you can teach something once and it will be retained. This is seldom the case. You should repeat every main point several times-the more the better.

Teaching over time. Every point you cover should be gone over on several different occasions that are at least several days apart.

Ask questions. Have your students answer your questions. This is how you can be sure they've retained what you've taught them. Make sure you ask questions some time (days) after you taught the information. Verify the student has really understood the lesson and can repeat the information.

They won't get it the first time. Don't get frustrated with your students; there are lots of facts they won't pick up until you repeat them several times. This is normal. If you find this frustrating, you can be sure you're rushing the training. This is not a quick operation-it will take time. If you rush, you'll do a poor job, and maybe drive the trainee away altogether.

Make sure the trainee understands why. "Connecting Point A to Point B" is not enough; your trainee must understand why you make the connection.

Use graphics. Draw lots of pictures. Have your students draw pictures. Come up with a variety of installations, especially variations of installations you're involved with during the training.

Your students need to ask a lot of questions. If they're not forthcoming, keep prodding them for questions. You must locate their points of confusion and gaps in their knowledge.

Don't expect knowledge you have not given. Don't ask questions about things you have not taught yet. Intimidating your students and showing them their ignorance will not help them.

Work hard to communicate well. Try several different ways of getting information from you to your new installers. Clear out all the obstacles you can of (thinking about other things at the same time, noises, distractions, etc.), and teach slowly. Better to get one idea firmly planted in a student's head, than five ideas that are partially understood. Also, repeat the same idea in a variety of ways.

Spend some time before and after work. Remember, training is a big job, and you'll need to have some time dedicated solely to training. Also, the things you talk about after work (hopefully in a quiet trailer) will be remembered far better than the things you cover while walking through the job site.

Choose your student's tasks carefully. Make sure you don't throw your students into jobs that they don't understand. The first time they do something new, you should do it with them. The second time they do it, you should be looking over their shoulder (without intimidating them).

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