In an effort to emphasize the importance of technical training, Charter Communications Inc.'s Central region recently introduced a new initiative called Broadband University.
Last month, 38 employees graduated from the inaugural class of Broadband Boot Camp, which teaches new hires everything from how to set up a digital set-top box to how to safely climb a utility pole.
Borrowing from the best practices of other regions around the country, Charter University was developed by regional vice president of engineering John Santangelo and regional manager of safety and technical development Scott Saxner.
Broadband Boot Camp is an intensive, five-week training program for new hires who join the MSO without technical skills.
"It's a tough course," Saxner said. "Not everybody passes it."
Those that don't pass get a second chance to learn some aspects of the Boot Camp curriculum, such as pole climbing. If a staffer fails a second time, Charter tries to find him or her a more suitable job, Saxner said.
Those that do make it through Boot Camp are rewarded with a graduation certificate.
"You can literally see the pride of accomplishment on the faces of the graduates," Santangelo said. The graduation ceremony "truly legitimizes the training program," he added.
In addition to the technical training, the students learn team-building skills that they often carry with them and apply at work each day.
"They create inner work groups, so they don't [need] to go to supervisors for help," Saxner said.
Broadband Boot Camp is taught in a classroom setting. In some the locations, there's also a miniature broadband house for practicing installations, as well as a pole farm to climb.
Broadband University also provides continuous learning for technicians, including specialty courses in hybrid fiber-coaxial (HFC) network maintenance, video-on-demand and defensive driving.
The courses involve hands-on training, video libraries, computer-based applications, one-on-one coaching and peer coaching. Because it's a virtual program, Saxner said, it can be updated as quickly as the company's business needs change.
Broadband Boot Camp is also updated to reflect feedback from previous classes.
"One of the hardest skill sets to learn is how to climb a pole safely," Saxner said. Rather than teaching new hires during week one of the five-week Boot Camp, the company adjusted the course to give new hires daily practice in pole-climbing, so they're not out of practice by the time Boot Camp is over.
Updating the curriculum also allows new students to learn about the latest products Charter is delivering to its customers, so they can better set up service and explain the product while in subscribers' homes.
A more knowledgeable employee base translates into better customer service, Santangelo contends.
"If your people aren't in tune with the product," he said, "you'll always fall short."