Buchtel High School juniors Elijah Graise, Tylor Williams and DeMontrell Hill got a first-hand look Thursday at trouble-shooting a problem on the job.
The boys were among about 40 students from Buchtel who spent the morning at the downtown Akron central office of AT&T as part of the phone company’s and Junior Achievement’s Job Shadow Day. The five-year effort to increase high school retention and work force readiness has reached more than 100,000 students nationwide.
Before coming to the AT&T offices, about 75 Buchtel students met with Junior Achievement staff for a presentation and survey to figure out what jobs might interest them: human resources, sales, analyst or technician. About 40 turned in permission slips to make the trip Thursday.
Graise, Williams and Hill were among seven who expressed interest in the technical work at the phone company. They took a tour of the central office, viewing equipment that connects land-line and wireless phone calls from the region.
“A lot of these technical fields are problem-solving,” said Crystal Jackson, the technicians’ supervisor. “You don’t have to know today what you want to be. We all entered [the company] in different ways,” she said in explaining that jobs continually evolve.
The students shadowing the technicians also were given the opportunity to set up a fiber-optic cable connection to test a line from one side of the building to another. Eyes grew wide as technicians explained the student would be using a “test kit” that costs $80,000 and circuit packs that cost $50,000.
Completing the circuit didn’t come as easily as the students — or technicians — expected. They first used a cleaning agent to wipe the cables, making sure that no oils naturally found on a human hand or little specks of dirt were on the fiber. They checked their work with a special camera.
The camera screen looked clean on the small area that actually was the fiber-optic cable. But one small speck remained in the housing of the cable, however.
“Should I leave it?” AT&T technician Scott Majcher asked the students, who weren’t sure.
“If I leave that crud on there and it migrates over time [onto the cable], we’ve got errors. Then we’d have to take down [the service] just to clean the fiber,” he said.
So they cleaned the fiber once more and plugged the cable into the test kit.
If it worked correctly and the group on the other side of the building had completed their work correctly, the two groups of students would be able to complete a phone call to each other.
It didn’t work.
Technicians unsuccessfully tried for the next hour — with the students’ assistance — to make the circuit, a real work order, operate properly.
Stephen Kristan, AT&T director of external affairs, told the students that trouble-shooting and the circuit not working showed “real life” and how teamwork and working backward step by step are part of a daily work schedule.
Going through the steps again was similar to what teachers at Buchtel have taught about trouble-shooting “to see what we missed,” said Hill, who wants to go into engineering and graphic design.
Graise, who wants to be an endocrinologist, said he “never knew it took all of this to make a phone call.”
Williams, who wants to be an Air Force mechanic and during down times was playing a subway surfing game on his smartphone, also said he didn’t realize that just to play his game, the data would be sent through the downtown AT&T office and another nearby data processing center for AT&T, even though his cellphone is through another carrier.
The students were called away to a closing lunch presentation before they were able to fully trouble-shoot the problem, but the technicians assured them they would have it fixed by the end of the day.
Brian Turner, Buchtel’s dean of students, said bringing the high school students to a job-shadow event “provides them with an opportunity to see that it’s more than what’s in their mind. It hopefully makes them think about what they can become and remove the blinders that they were operating with.”
Since the initiative started in 2008, AT&T officials say more than 645 Akron-area students have come through the program.
Jack Kosakowski, president and chief executive officer of Junior Achievement USA, said in a news release the initiative is a way to “empower young people to take charge of their future career success — and help them make the connection between the importance of education and the skills they need to succeed.”