Survey: Engineers Want Increased Training, Pay

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Cable engineers are troubled about keeping up, grumpy about
their wages, increasingly stressed out and definitely not bored, according to the latest CED
magazine survey.

This year's salary and job-satisfaction survey,
compiled annually by CED
(a sister publication to Multichannel News), was distributed earlier this summer to
2,000 technical staffers, ranging in title from vice president of engineering to
technician. More than 200 surveys were completed and returned.

On average, salaries are on the rise. But, perhaps not
surprisingly, many respondents groused about their pay.

A 43-year-old Maryland technician who earns $34,500 per
year spoke for many of his peers in saying, "The industry still does not give good
salaries and benefits to get and keep good employees, which would, in turn, create a good
name for the cable industry."

Others complained about cable wages compared with those of
other industries.

"The pay scale for cable-TV employees is far below
[that of] the phone company," wrote a Colorado-based technician who earns $1,700 per
month.

A louder, resounding theme in this year's responses,
compared with those of the past, was frustration over the dearth of training and technical
information that is needed to tackle new businesses like high-speed data, digital video
and telephony.

Nearly three-quarters of the respondents (71.7 percent)
said they're lacking the right information to do their jobs, particularly given the
quickening new service mix of digital, cable modems and telephony.

When asked to detail the three biggest job-related concerns
or challenges that they will face in the next 12 to 18 months, the clear majority
expressed worry over the lack of training for themselves and their co-workers.

Notably, training is available, and more so than in years
past. When asked if their employers provided on-the-job training, 63.3 percent said yes.
Of those who replied affirmatively, 72.1 percent rated that training as either
"satisfactory" or "very good."

Plus, nearly 90 percent of the respondents acknowledged
that their companies pay for job-related education or training outside of their regular
working hours or schedule.

But it's not enough, respondents said.

One middle-management cable professional with more than 20
years of experience, who works for a small system (defined as 10,000 to 19,999
subscribers) in Oregon, listed his three biggest concerns as: "Training, training and
more training. Things are happening so fast that the technicians are beginning to feel
left behind, even though we provide training, both on-site and off."

Like many clock-battlers, the manager said, he's
having trouble balancing his workload to achieve both short- and long-term goals.

"I used to have more time to read industry magazines
and papers. But, of late, the time has become harder to find. I'm constantly behind
with my reading," he said.

When asked if system technicians had the skill sets to do
multiple-service installations, some two-thirds of the respondents (67.9 percent) said no.

Overall technical-knowledge areas proved spotty, too. While
engineering managers were confident about their knowledge of DOCSIS (Data Over Cable
Service/Interoperability Specification, the new cable-modem standard) and Ethernet
networks, their confidence levels plummeted when asked about trendy new topics like
universal-serial-bus technologies, fire wire, data fragmentation and application program
interfaces.

All of those topical areas serve as underpinnings or focal
areas for digital services over cable.

Stress is also on the rise. More than three-quarters of the
respondents said on-the-job stress is becoming a matter of concern to them.

Respondents were asked to gauge their stress levels, from
"bad" (feeling stressed only once in a great while) to "terrible"
(stressed to a debilitating degree).

Nearly one-half (48.2 percent) claimed that their stress
levels were definitely on the increase and becoming a real concern. Just over one-quarter
of the respondents said stress was periodic, but still manageable.

Yet nearly one-fifth of the respondents (19.9 percent) said
stress levels are very high and very troubling.

Only 2.4 percent experienced stress once in a great while,
and 3.7 percent described it as terrible and debilitating at times.

What's causing the stress? Responses ran the gamut
from "interdepartmental fighting" to "burnout" to
"merger-mania."

One possible cause is an increase in time spent on the job.
As in years past, many of cable's technical professionals wouldn't know a
40-hour work week if it knocked them off a pole.

When broken out by job classification, technicians came
closest to the 40-hour work week, averaging 44.7 hours per week. The highest overall
average was claimed by engineering managers, at 53.5 hours.

Nearly one-half (46.7 percent) of technical-management
professionals claimed that they put in 50 to 59 hours of work each week. More than
two-fifths of the engineering managers and general managers (41.7 percent and 42.9
percent, respectively) said they put in similar hours on the job.

Meanwhile, one-quarter of the management and one-third of
the engineering-management respondents (25.7 percent and 33.3 percent, respectively) said
they're putting in, on average, 60 to 69 hours per week.

Interestingly, when asked if they think that the number of
hours that they put in is excessive in terms of the pay and bonuses that they receive,
majorities in the management, engineering and technical ranks (64.7 percent, 70.6 percent
and 59.5 percent, respectively) said no.

That could be because of additional help on the job. In
fact, 43.9 percent said their work-force levels had increased by approximately 21 workers
on average, while only 5 percent said they actually saw reductions in staffing levels.
One-half said their staffs were the same size as last year.

As far as competitive threats go, direct-broadcast
satellite remains the scariest interloper this year, with 61.8 naming it as the most
potent competitor. Regional Bell operating companies took second place on the competitor
list, with 17 percent deeming them the most threatening. Wireless TV brought up the rear,
with 11.3 percent calling it a clear and present danger to cable revenues.

Still, despite the grumbles, cable's techies
aren't bored. Nearly two-thirds (64.4 percent) said their jobs are challenging and
interesting.

Michael Lafferty is a senior editor with CED
magazine.

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