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Engineering-wise: Prepping tomorrow's workforce today

Tue, 02/11/2014 - 7:20pm
Mark Dzuban, President and CEO of the SCTE

Looking back, the stars were clearly aligned for me to have a career in cable.  My dad, a Westinghouse engineer, would spend nights and weekends in our basement building amplifiers for Bark Lee Yee’s pioneering systems.  Well before my teens, my job was to sort the parts that dad needed to make cable TV a reality in parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Even then, my indoctrination was the exception, not the rule, but the reality today is this:  If cable is going to continue to progress as a – and in many cases as “the” – primary source for entertainment and communications, we need to find ways to similarly introduce the industry as a viable career path for young people. 

That our industry is advancing by leaps and bounds is unquestioned. We’re delivering services that were beyond the scope of the imagination when Dad and I were packing rural mailboxes with electronics and converting them into early CATV amplifiers. But in a technology-driven world, the industry of tomorrow will only be as good as the imagination and skills of future generations of engineering and operations professionals allow.

More and more, we at SCTE are looking at ways to address the issue on a holistic level. What’s needed is a cradle-to-grave (well, maybe not literally!) approach that fosters interest in the industry among young people, give them the tools to find positions in our ranks and offers the training and career advancement opportunities that allows us to retain them as valued contributors.

When it comes to the existing workforce, we’ve done plenty to advance that agenda. SCTE today offers programs that cannot be found anywhere else:  A comprehensive training and certification regimen that is uniquely aligned with the needs of operators and the vendors who are integral to their success. Integration of our activities with NCTA and CableLabs.  Advanced educational opportunities, including our SCTE Leadership Institute programs with the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth and the Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business. 

Whether workers are customer-facing or in behind-the-scenes operational capacities, our programs are intended to provide the education that will make them well-versed in technology and savvy about the industry in which they work. Operators are seeing the value:  Suddenlink takes great pride in the maintaining a 100 percent level of SCTE-certified technicians. We are also working with MSOs to launch SCTE training in technical schools, so that new hires can be SCTE Certified when they enter the workforce.

One area where work needs to be done is in nurturing coming generations of cable workers.  Here the hurdles are significant, but not insurmountable. Among the problems: the country’s lackluster status in math and science education, where our students rank 31st and 24th, respectively, among developed nations; and for those who nevertheless excel in those areas, a lack of awareness that cable can provide the challenge, the opportunity and the satisfaction that can make it a desired career.

 Our challenge is threefold:  to create an environment in which talented youngsters can expand their math and science learning; to track them as they move into and through the workforce; and to supplement their interest in math and science into an awareness that cable can provide the growth and rewards they seek.

Those of you who were at SCTE Cable-Tec Expo last October know that the industry is stepping up activity with US FIRST, the organization created by innovator and entrepreneur Dean Kamen to recognize science and technology excellence in our youth. While it’s important that we actively support the organization and others like it, however, we need to remember the long-term goal of such activity.

Far from being a community relations program, our work with US FIRST is an investment in our future.  As we spend money to sponsor robotics teams, we need to ask ourselves some questions:  How will our involvement help to spur interest in cable as a career? What else can we as an industry do to nurture their desire to learn more about our industry? How can we emulate the success of companies like FedEx, UPS and GE, all of which have processes in place to track promising talent and to secure employment interviews at the appropriate time?

One of my goals in 2014 and beyond is to get SCTE more involved – at the chapter level and even through our headquarters – in US FIRST activities. It’s important that all of us in the industry work to scale this program, with the optimal outcome of creating a relationship that doesn’t just make us feel good about ourselves, but also changes the way people look at our industry.  You’ll be hearing more about that in the months ahead.

When I was working with my father as a youngster, I’m not sure I understood the long-term impact of the industry that we were helping to build, but I was fortunate to have a ground-floor point of entry into a cable career.  For our industry to continue its forward progress, we need to provide those same opportunities to the generations of workers who will follow us.

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