Outlook for Jobs in Fiber Optics
Though the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not yet have information compiled for 2011, an overview of the fiber optics employment outlook for 2010 can prove instructive for those seeking to enter this particular job market. A very quick overview: as of 2010, there were roughly 270,000 jobs in the field of fiber optics in the U.S., with the median pay just under $55,000 per year (or $26/hour in some cases). It is estimated that 36,000 jobs will be added in the next 10 years in the industry, meaning that opportunities are not vast, but for those who are well-qualified, good opportunities exist.
The first question most candidates have about entering the field revolves around the specific requirements for becoming a fiber tech. Here’s some information from the Fiber Optic Association (FOA):
Most of those who design fiber optic components have at least a undergraduate degree. For components like connectors, it would be in mechanical engineering. Optical components like fibers require knowledge of both optics and materials, so many designers will have degrees in physics, chemistry or materials. If you want to develop lasers or photodetectors, you should have a background in solid-state physics. Designing transceivers involves a combination of electronics and fiber optics.
Designers of fiber optic systems are usually electronic engineers familiar with digital communications systems. Fiber optic components are used like integrated circuits to develop these communications systems.
While that may be relevant for designers, the vast majority of positions in the field are for installers and repairers. Here, the FOA has additional information for what this particular type of position with entail:
Probably the largest number of jobs are as contractors and installers who build fiber optic networks. Installers must be skilled in the process of pulling cables, splicing and terminating, then testing them. It requires more manual dexterity than the other jobs, plus a basic understanding of how the systems work. In addition, installers work with specialized equipment like fusion splicers, OLTSs and OTDRs that require extensive knowledge of their operation and an understanding of how to interpret test results.
Workers who install telephone, surveillance CCTV and CATV fiber optic networks do much of their work outdoors (what we call outside plant – OSP – installations) braving year-round weather. They sometimes operate big machines that dig trenches and lay and/or pull cables as well as bucket trucks. Then they bring the ends of the cables into special trucks or trailers where lengths of cable are spliced together and tested.
Outside plant (OSP) installations generally require more hardware (and more knowledge of the tools and test equipment.) Pullers, splicers, OTDRs and even splicing vans are the tools of the trade for OSP contractors.
It is also worth noting that there are a number of fiber optics jobs available with government agencies and contractors, as the networking needs of the largest agencies are overwhelming and very large numbers of contractors are always needed to install and maintain fiber lines. While the vast majority of these position are in the Washington, DC area – and around Maryland and Virginia – there are still opportunities throughout the U.S. and telecommunications and cable companies offer the majority of opportunities in the private sector.
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