As part of its efforts to recover from a three-month delay, NBN Co announced yesterday it will train and employ extra fibre splicers.
However, Austin Blackburne, business director for Hays Construction in Victoria, said that won’t be as easy as it sounds.
“It’s easy to write a headline and say ‘we’ll train 80 fibre splicers’, but you need to find people that are capable of being trained [and] you need to find people that are not already in employment,” he told Computerworld Australia.
“It’s easier said than done. I think … they will struggle a little bit.”
Mike Quigley, CEO at NBN Co, has denied there are issues with labour shortages and that there are enough workers in the country to build the NBN.
But Blackburne said there is a shortage of fibre splicers, which is particularly evident in Queensland, the north coast of NSW and NSW itself.
“There were a whole bunch of splicers that were put into the market probably 10 years ago for the Foxtel rollout … So where are those people now? We don’t know. We’re desperately trying to find a lot of those people,” Blackburne said.
“You can do courses [and] there is training available, but … these people aren’t out there growing on trees. They’re hard to find. There’s definitely a shortage. We will see an increased shortage in the next three months.”
Mark Gregory, senior lecturer at RMIT University's School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, said fibre splicers join, alter, repair and test fibre cable connections.
“In the access network NBN Co is using GPON and this means that one optic fibre cable may be split up to 32 times for customer premise connections. Normally this is done in the factory before the cable is rolled out but there is still going to be the need for alterations, extensions, changes, etc,” he said.
He said some contractors offer traineeships in fibre splicing but spaces are typically limited.
“One of the problems is the amount of training required for people to become self-sufficient for more than team work with supervision on the job,” he said. “This is one of the reasons why there are so many ads for trained people.”
Depending on the qualifications of an individual, Gregory said training can take anywhere from one to 12 weeks. For example, a one-week training course could be provided to an individual who already had previous training, he said.
There are currently 31 jobs listed under ‘fibre splicer’ on online job network Seek.
Silcar, which has been awarded a contract worth up to $78 million to install NBN equipment in Queensland, NSW and the ACT, is currently advertising a job for an experienced fibre splicer in Queensland, with applicants required to have experience using up-to-date splicing/testing equipment, AUSTEL open registration, experience working on the Telstra network and a level two first aid certificate.
Some jobs are listed on Seek as earning $35 an hour.
Gregory said this means there are plenty of applicants, with the real issue with recruiting fibre splicers being the time required to complete training.
“If they cannot get people with some skills then they will have to start from scratch. This could take up to a year or more for someone starting from scratch and would involve initial training and further on-the-job training ... to get additional qualifications,” he said.
“Normally cable splicers would come from people completing two to four-year TAFE courses. Then after achieving all the qualifications for a cabler, electrician or IT technician they would do the fibre splicing training, including a one- to four-week course,” Gregory said.
On-the-job training is typically required following this, Gregory said, but construction companies are able to bring on apprentices and allow them to work from day one and complete training as they go.
Blackburne said demand for fibre splicers will ramp up as the NBN rollout expands, with the shortage for fibre splicers to hit a peak towards the end of this year and demand for other telco jobs to also increase.
“Generally when you have a fibre splicer you’ve also got their right-hand man, being a cable hauler and those guys use particular equipment to introduce the cable into the pit. So both of those requirements are in demand at the moment,” he said.
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