When the first telephone lines were set, the people who erected
them and hung the wires had no previous experience with the job.
Through trial and error, they learned along the way, picking up
skills and tricks needed to get the line in working order for
anxious communities. As they grew more experienced and came up with
more efficient methods, they passed their knowledge on and a new
line of work was born.
Before the roles of the workers who make up the telephone
industry were defined, many linemen and switchmen picked up skills
on their own simply by going to work for a telephone company. No
formal schooling was available for those interested in telephone
work. Often, repairmen and maintenance workers learned simply by
taking components apart and putting them back together in order to
see how they functioned.
The lack of formal rules to define the work meant that employment
in one company did not prepare a worker for labour in another,
because systems and methods in the different companies were so
The Life of an Apprentice – Mr. Tom Wiley
Tom Wiley describes the many duties of the young men who apprenticed
as switchmen for the telephone exchange. There was a lot to learn
under close scrutiny, but practice made perfect as the apprentice
gained time and experience.
It was not until the early 1960s that schooling recognized by the
Government of Alberta was offered for those wishing to pursue a
career in the telephone and telecommunications industries.
Apprenticeship courses were offered first in Calgary and later in
Some of the more prominent telephone apprenticeship programs in
Alberta today are offered in Calgary at the Southern Alberta
Institute of Technology (SAIT) and Mount Royal College, and at the
Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) in Edmonton.
Enrolling in an apprenticeship program is the first step towards
a job in the telephone and telecommunications workforce. Generally,
a grade 12 education is required. Depending on the job description,
apprentices will complete about 1500 hours of work for an employer
as well as a ten-week course during that time. In doing this, they
will learn the skills they need in order to find employment in the
ever-expanding and evolving telecommunications industry.
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Heritage Community Foundation and
Telephone Historical Centre All Rights Reserved