RACINE — Almost two decades ago when Scott Greuel entered the workforce, the idea of becoming a low voltage technician really appealed to him.
Essentially, he was wiring buildings for computer, phone and cable access. The demand for internet-connected computers was especially becoming the norm, and Wi-Fi had just barely made its debut as the fledgling next big thing.
Back then, Greuel learned most, if not everything, he knows about low voltage telecommunication installation on the job.
“I just fell into it. I guess I happened to be at the right place at the right time, and I found out this a great field,” said the 39-year-old Racine resident who continues to work in the industry.
Seventeen years later, Greuel now finds himself in the classroom, learning the latest technology and telecom installation methods “on demand” at Gateway Technical College.
“I’ve taken other classes before for training,” said Greuel, whose costs are covered thanks to a special grant.
In December, Gateway received a $100,000 grant from legendary metal band Metallica’s “All Within My Hands” Foundation. The foundation selected the technical college as one of 10 to be the host site of the inaugural Metallica Scholars program, offering a restructured eight-credit course at a highly reduced cost to students.
The grant provides 90% of the funding for tuition, books, materials and placement examination fees. The funding also covers the use of a Chromebook for each student through the end of the course, which includes fire stopping, telecom safety and installation, certified customer service and applied math.
The format allows students to take the course at their own pace, according to instructor Randy Reusser, whose course is appropriately titled “Telecom On-Demand.”
Reusser said students train for a career in telecom cable installation, and it allows them to complete the certificate program while still working their full- or part-time jobs. Twenty-one students enrolled this summer. The program will continue in September.
“This program is also great for individuals with little or no experience. It will give them the tools to start a healthy career in the field of telecom,” he said. “The classes are a blended format where students can do online course work anywhere, at any time, and then attend flexible open labs on a weeknight or during the day on Saturdays.”
During the first round of course studies that began this summer, labs were scheduled Wednesdays and Saturdays, he said.
“Whatever shift a person works, they should be able to have one-on-one time with instruction,” he said. “The hands-on is very demanding.”
In addition to the classes, students have an opportunity to earn up to 10 certificates. The certifications include Greenlee/NC3 VDV copper, Belden PCU-746 fiber and ETAI customer service.
“The Metallica Foundation firmly supports what Gateway Technical College is doing to help people transition from jobs to careers,” he said.
According to Reusser, the telecom installation program is meeting a demand in the job market as more construction comes to the area. Currently, Reusser has three students who are telecom installers. The jobs generally start at $14 to $16 per hour, but at least one company in Milwaukee pays $22 an hour.
“As the construction business is building more, that’s one of the main things driving the demand,” he said.
Reusser said that the need to update infrastructure also drives demand.
“When you’re putting in this type of infrastructure, it has to be updated every 10 years. So, it’s not just new construction,” he said. “Wireless is a big thing. Wireless is really driving our industry, along with door access and security.”
Greuel has worked on many telecom installation jobs, including the Bradley Center, Miller Park and Northwestern Mutual Center tower, and even Gateway Technical College’s telecom infrastructure. While he’s also a student in the self-paced class, he’s more than willing to share his own experience.
“We’re all in class, and we help each other. It’s hands-on and you’re learning and you’re kind of a team,” he said.
For student Luis Alvarado, 23, of Milwaukee, the program is helping him to improve his skills and become more efficient at his job.
“And I’m more valuable at the same time,” said Alvarado, who works as a low-voltage technician for Brookfield-based Uihlein Electric.
“I like it so far because you have some freedom to do it at your own time,” said Alvarado, who is from Puerto Rico. “When you come to class, you have to be in the class 100 percent. But you can be at home to do it and learn at the same time. I’m grateful for this opportunity.”
Greuel said he’s happy that he chose a field that continues to be in demand.
“It’s the most in-demand job right now,” he said, alluding the industry’s continued evolution that includes “smart” technology in homes and businesses. “The course has been a huge help. And it’s fun to do … because you’re able to take a step back, learn and help other people.”