GCI bolsters broadband technician training in rural Alaska

Alaska operator GCI is striving to help broadband technicians hone their skills in the rural parts of the state. This week, it stood up a training program for employees working in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region.

Nearly 35 GCI technicians are in attendance, as the operator said the event is its largest-ever training series in rural Alaska. Topics that will be covered include HVAC and DC power systems, copper wire network infrastructure, antenna structure lighting as well as safety-oriented skills like hypothermia prevention and hearing conservation.

Tom Zulz, GCI’s senior director of workforce management, told Fierce while fiber installation is part of GCI’s overall training program, this specific event is geared toward “traditional twisted-pair technology, power, HVAC and other responsibilities these technicians support within their local communities.”

“Our current goal with all our field technicians is to have them through basic fiber splicing by the end of 2023,” he said. “We have already completed courses in Anchorage and Fairbanks.”

GCI held a similar training program last year in Bethel, but with a smaller group of students. At the time, the curriculum focused mainly on safety and ladder handling, but this year’s program includes “additional technical topics with a more in-depth focus.”

“Due to the logistics in Alaska, we are working hard to bring the training out to the rural areas in the communities we serve,” said Zulz.

The Y-K Delta region is a notable area of expansion for GCI, which is partnering with Bethel Native Corporation to construct the 405-mile Airraq (pronounced eye-huk) fiber network.

Additionally, GCI is working on delivering fiber to several remote Aleutian, Alaska Peninsula and Kodiak Island communities, which typically lack reliable transportation and infrastructure.

“While the majority of the technical skills our technicians learn are applicable in any number of communities, it’s the environments in which our rural technicians must be prepared to operate that are the most challenging,” Zulz said. “At GCI we really emphasize a culture of safety and preparation because our technicians are operating in incredibly rugged environments that, for the unprepared, can be very unforgiving.”

He particularly highlighted hypothermia prevention as one of “the most important” training sessions.

GCI plans to hold similar workforce development programs in other Alaskan rural areas, such as Kotzebue in the state’s Northwest Arctic Borough.

As for other ways GCI is bolstering Alaska’s broadband workforce, Zulz added the operator continues “to have conversations with a wide variety of agencies regarding the potential for internships, technical curriculum to prepare students for careers in the telecom industry, and participation in job fairs to introduce those new to the workforce to the opportunity that the broadband field represents.”