Telecommunications Technician Degrees: Diploma, Associate & Online Training Info

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Diploma and associate's degree programs for telecommunications technicians can lead to careers in communications technology in several fields. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and career options, and find out what you can do with your training.
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Study to Be a Telecommunications Technician: Degrees at a Glance

Telecommunications technicians install and repair systems that keep people connected and information flowing. A high school diploma and on-the-job training sufficiently prepare line installers working with outside copper and fiber optic cables. However, postsecondary training, usually a diploma or associate's degree, is necessary for the technicians who install and troubleshoot the systems at users' locations and along the networks. To become a technician for central hubs and distribution nodes, you may need a bachelor's degree.

Available online diploma and degree programs may assume prior knowledge of electronics, and might be appropriate if you already have some work experience in telecommunications or electronics. Most telecommunications technicians work for wired communications carriers, like phone and cable companies (55%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). The BLS expects the number of telco technicians to grow 15%, about as much as the economy as a whole, from 2010-2020.

Diploma Associate's Degree
Who is this for? Students who want quick entry into the workforce Students who want career preparation with potential for educational and professional advancement
Common Career Paths (with approximate average annual salary) -Telecommunications equipment installer ($52,870*)
-Home entertainment equipment installer ($36,360*)
Career paths with an associate's degree are similar to the diploma program.
Time to Completion 6 months-1 year part-time or full-time 2 years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements 30-45 credit hours, primarily telecommunications and electronics coursework, with internship 60-65 credit hours, including labs and general education coursework
Prerequisites High school diploma High school diploma
Online Availability Rare Rare

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2011.

Telecommunications Technician Diploma

Short-term telecommunications technician career diplomas from community colleges and vocational schools prepare you for entry-level jobs in installation and maintenance, most often at the end-user location or branch exchanges. Programs combine basic theory with practical instruction and are typically focused on the fundamentals and a limited selection of the kinds of telecommunications systems that technicians encounter. You may need to purchase tools and lab kits for some hands-on courses, or these could be included in the cost of the program.

Diploma program curricula typically consist of 10-15 classes. Attending a shorter program full-time, you may be able to earn your telecommunications technician diploma in six months. A longer program, or attending a short program on a night and weekend schedule, may take a year to complete.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Short program that is sufficient for entry-level employment
  • Coursework focuses on a career-relevant body of knowledge and skill set
  • Programs provide focused instruction in specific telecommunications technologies

Cons

  • Little career flexibility
  • Advancement may require additional training or certifications
  • Federal financial aid eligibility is prorated for programs less than 1 year long*

Source: *U.S. Department of Education

Courses and Requirements

The coursework in a diploma program focuses on electricity fundamentals and telecommunications technology. Hands-on instruction teaches you to use tools, like oscilloscopes and multimeters, in installation, troubleshooting and maintenance work, and you could apply this training through a required internship. Common course topics include:

  • Circuitry
  • Cabling techniques
  • Electrical fundamentals
  • Copper and fiber optic systems
  • Transmitter and receiver systems
  • Customer service

Online Diploma Options

While not common, online diploma programs are available, and cover the same coursework as on-campus programs. You may need to find a proctor to supervise your midterm and final examinations. You can look for an approved proctor at a local college or library, or, if you're currently working in telecommunications, your supervisor or union shop steward might proctor your exams. If you're looking for an online program to begin your career training, note that some online diploma and certificate programs are aimed at current IT professionals expanding on existing skills.

Stand Out with This Degree

Telecommunications technology is used extensively in smart homes to automate systems like lights, climate control and home entertainment. Because of this, some diploma programs offer a specialization in green technology. By seeking out a program with green technology or home automation training, you can set yourself up to focus on this emerging sector. Some schools also offer additional work experiences with local organizations or optional certification testing that can showcase your expertise in the field.

Degree Alternatives

Telecommunications technology is a well-paying field with solid growth anticipated. However, you might also look at a diploma program in electronics, which can qualify you for jobs in both telecommunications and in computer and home electronics repair. Though electronics repair has a lower median salary ($49,170, according to the BLS) and slower anticipated growth (3% over the 2010-2020 decade) than telecommunications, the broader training provides options in more fields.

Associate's Degree in Telecommunications Technology

A telecommunications technician associate's degree program adds general education classes in English composition, communication, science and math to the telecommunications instruction. At schools that offer both diploma and associate's degree programs, required telecommunications coursework may be the same for both programs. With an associate's degree, you'll find yourself qualified to troubleshoot and service end user systems and nodes along the transmission network; plus, you could continue on to earn the bachelor's degree that employers frequently look for in technicians servicing the central parts of a communications network.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Prepares for direct entry into the telecommunications workforce upon graduation
  • Credits may transfer to a bachelor's degree in telecommunications or information technology
  • May prepare you for professional certifications

Cons

  • Career options upon graduation are the same as for a shorter diploma program
  • Career advancement to central office or headend technician may require a bachelor's degree
  • Ongoing education is required to keep current with changing industry technology

Courses and Requirements

You can use the general education coursework in an associate's degree program to hone related professional skills. A college-level algebra course can help you calculate circuit performance, and business communications coursework could help you explain services and problems to end users. You might be able to fulfill general education requirements with courses that discuss the history of communications technology and the ethics of telecommunications technology, including issues like piracy and surveillance

Online Degree Options

Fully online associate's degree programs for telecommunications technicians are rare. However, many community colleges offer some courses online even if their telecommunications degrees are not formally offered as online or hybrid programs. You may be able to use distance education for general education requirements while taking labs and telecommunications courses on campus.

Stand Out with This Degree

Many associate's degree programs also include a few credits of free electives, so you can expand your opportunities to work with wireless systems by taking courses in programming or network protocols. Associate's degree programs may also prepare you to take the exams for CompTIA, Cisco and Microsoft certifications after you graduate.

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