Staffing for broadband construction questioned

By Hamish Fletcher

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

A training standards body is questioning if the country will have enough skilled workers to service and maintain the Government's billon-dollar fibre internet networks.

The ultra-fast broadband scheme and rural broadband initiative are to be rolled out over the next eight years and will need to be built and upgraded by engineers with a specialised knowledge of fibre optic cables.

The Etito, which sets the qualification standards for telecommunications workers, says the sector needs to think about training staff now rather than waiting until they are needed.

"We can't quantify the inevitable spike in demand for cablers and cable-jointers until [network companies] start hiring and training but certainly anecdotal feedback from training providers indicates that the industry is very much relying on its ability to train people quickly when the demand presents," said Etito corporate relations manager Michael Frampton.

"We think that's a questionable strategy because training times have lengthened as technology has become more complex."

Although the industry may look to rely on overseas workers if needed, Frampton said this was also a reckless strategy.

"We'd consider [that] risky, because telecommunications engineers, planners, cablers and line mechanics will all be in demand in Australia and Southeast Asia as their own ultra-fast broadband networks are constructed," he said.

Frampton said a more "expansive and urgent" conversation was needed within the industry about workforce planning.

However, Communications Minister Steven Joyce said there was no immediate skill shortage and funding for more training could be made available by the Tertiary Education Commission if required.

He said industry training was subsidised by taxpayers to the order of 70 per cent with the rest coming from employers.

Telecom's lines arm, Chorus, will build most of the network but refused to reveal if it had enough skilled workers to roll out the fibre cables.

The rural broadband initiative will be constructed in a joint venture between Vodafone and Telecom over the next six years.

- NZ Herald

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