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Fiber Optics for Chicago's Youth


Fiber Optics 101 for Chicago’s Youth

Published on Mar 29, 2022

Presented by Crown Castle

Chamber member Crown Castle working with partnerships on alternative education in fiber optics and infrastructure.

Connectivity is essential to growing and supporting communities and Crown Castle is committed to increasing connectivity through the communications infrastructure and 5G technologies we are bringing to Chicago every day. At the same time, we’re working to foster connections through strong partnerships in the places where we live and work.

A practical and inspirational example of this type of partnership is the Fiber Splicing Lab, created by our partner Electric Conduit Construction (ECC) in 2017 in conjunction with the META24 workforce development program.

The lab is located in the Community Youth Development Institute, an alternative high school in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood. It’s part of META24’s WorkForce High initiative, helping young Chicagoans from the West and South sides transform their circumstances and pursue non-traditional paths to a high school diploma while developing their entrepreneurial spirit, life lessons and job skills.

At the lab, students are educated on the fundamentals of working with fiber optic cable and creating quality connections, then receive hands-on training in fusion splicing fiber. Because fiber serves as the backbone of expanding 5G connectivity, this new technology is creating an enormous demand for highly skilled trade jobs like fiber splicing.

On a recent visit to the splicing lab, Crown Castle Public Affairs Manager Renee Morales explained to students that whether they are creating a new video game in one of their coding classes, building a program for a drone mission, or learning to stand up an e-commerce site, the fiber-splicing skills taught in the lab form the bedrock of the coming generations of innovation. It’s estimated that 800,000 small cells – low-powered antennas connected by fiber – will be needed in the next four years to support North America’s data consumption and future advance networks like 5G.

“That’s job security for the future, because our whole lives are going to be revolutionized by 5G. All sorts of innovative and technological advancements are going to rely on this type of work. It might seem like a construction job, but it’s really the future of how we will conduct our entire lives.”

Renee Morales | Crown Castle

ECC is a key Crown Castle partner in the Chicago area and both companies are focused on the benefits that are realized when local partners bring enhanced connectivity to neighborhoods while providing job opportunities for community members. ECC has six employees from the META24 program currently and anticipates bringing on up to a dozen more this year. The company has helped train another twelve students who have gone on to jobs at other companies.

The program also provides training and coaching that can help the students achieve union membership with International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 9; those overhead line workers do the work of installing small cells for Crown Castle in Chicago.

The lab, classes, and coaching provided through the META24 program provide a high school-to-career path for students who may be struggling to connect the dots between getting an education and their ability to make a living.

ECC President Tim Pfleeger says the value of the program goes beyond the technical skills students practice; it’s about how the students are prepared to make the leap into the working world, thanks to the coaching they get as part of the close partnership between ECC and the educators.

“We will train them on the stuff they need to know, we invest in that, but if they’re not ready to work, we don’t have the capacity to teach them, so I keep going back to the connection, for things to work you have to be connected to the company you’re sending people to, it can’t just be a drop-off.”

Tim Pfleeger | Electric Conduit Construction

The META24 program, led by Dr. Flavian Prince, originated in the Austin neighborhood and the splicing lab stemmed from conversations between Prince, ECC President Tim Pfleeger, and 37th Ward Ald. Emma Mitts. The program continues to focus on providing meaningful opportunities in the trades, such as electrical apprenticeships, to young adults.

“The ability to really help bring community members to the workforce, in a meaningful way, has a tremendous impact on a lot of kids.”

Dr. Flavian Prince | WorkForce High & META24

Crown Castle owns, operates, and leases more than 40,000 cell towers and approximately 80,000 route miles of fiber supporting small cells and fiber solutions across every major U.S. market. This nationwide portfolio of communications infrastructure connects cities and communities to essential data, technology, and wireless service – bringing information, ideas, and innovations to the people and businesses that need them.

Electric Conduit Construction provides complete project management, construction management, and turnkey construction services in the areas of civil, underground, directional drilling, aerial, electrical and fiber optic installations to the utility industry. Service area includes the upper Midwest from Nebraska to the East Coast. 

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