NEW YORK-To address a widely acknowledged shortage of wireless technicians and appropriate training schools, the State University of New York at Canton hopes to launch in September a two-year degree program in collaboration with the wireless industry.

“It is very difficult to find technicians, and we’re looking at a shortage for at least the next five years,” said David Duclos, director of technology operations for Arch Communications Group Inc., Northeast Division. “In wireless communications, especially paging and [personal communications services], no one is really teaching it.”

No one interviewed could provide specific estimates of the number of wireless technicians that will be needed. However, the Personal Communications Industry Association projects that more than 300,000 new jobs of all types in the wireless industry will be created by 2000 in the United States alone, said Garrie Losee, its business development consultant.

Earlier this month, Duclos and Losee attended a meeting, which SUNY-Canton officials convened with nearly 40 delegates from a broad array of wireless sector companies, including: Ericsson Inc., Glenayre Technologies Inc., Harris Corp. and Motorola Inc. The university is awaiting formal, written endorsement from wireless companies on the curriculum, as well as commitments for donations of about $1 million in equipment.

Using the PCIA wireless technician certification examination as a model, SUNY-Canton officials had developed in advance of the meeting a prototype curriculum, which they presented for review and modification. Its purpose is to turn out graduates who have theoretical background, hands-on technical training, the ability to continue learning and the capability to communicate clearly both verbally and in writing. Under discussion are enhancements like guest lecturers from the industry, industry internships and scholarships and between-semester specialty courses.

“Once the participants validate the program as meeting the needs of industry, the State University of New York and the state Department of Education have a fast-track process that takes about 60 days; so, we expect fairly rapid approval,” said Eric Pellegrino, executive assistant to Joseph Kennedy, president of SUNY at Canton, which is about 125 miles north of Syracuse.

“One of the most powerful statements Dr. Kennedy expressed is that the school would offer a performance guarantee for graduates,” said Arch’s Duclos. If they aren’t up to the job when they join a company, the school will provide free remedial study.”

Besides Kennedy, another prime mover behind the wireless technician school initiative is Roger Morgan, a university Foundation Board member and president of Tri-County Communications Systems, Canton.

“I have a large paging company and a Motorola two-way shop. I would hire two more technicians if I could find them,” Morgan said. “I know another person who needs 125 technicians for a project in Austria and can’t find a single one.”

Morgan said he is aware of only one Texas-based school that once offered training and education specifically for wireless technicians, who install, maintain and repair systems. Mike Mullins, director of public relations for SUNY-Canton, said he knows of just one other school, in Colorado.

Several industry sources said wireless companies typically have raided each other’s technical staff, but the process has proven a zero sum game that simply bids up the price of employees who show little loyalty in a seller’s market for their services. The rapid turnover in this field also makes in-house company training programs that much more expensive, especially since newly trained wireless technicians don’t get up to speed for a year or two. Tuition at the new Institute would cost $3,200 a year, and graduates could expect starting salaries of $30,000 to $35,000 a year, Pellegrino said.


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