As the delivery of superfast broadband accelerates around the country, a Teesside company is playing a leading role in meeting the national training needs of the telecommunications industry. PETER BARRON met the team behind the DTN Academy…

BY his own admission, Roy Fraser’s future direction was uncertain when he left school – and he breaks into a smile as he reflects on his unlikely early jobs.

“I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do but I tried my hand at all sorts, including making car radiators and a stint down the steelworks,” he says. Then the smile grows wider as he adds: “I was even a male model!”

Born and raised in Hartlepool, Roy is a warm character with a big sense of humour, but he’d be the first to admit he doesn’t possess obvious male model credentials. Nevertheless, he’s happy to elaborate: “I was working on the production line at a knitwear factory, and they used to showcase their products to clients. Somehow, I got roped into modelling the jumpers on the catwalk up in Newcastle,” he explains. “It was a bit daunting, but I got through it – with the help of a few whiskies!”

Fast forward to today and Roy is entitled to raise a glass to how his life has worked out as he proudly leads a team at DTN Academy – established as one of the UK’s leading training providers for the booming telecommunications industry.

Twenty-one years after it was launched with a staff of just three, DTN Academy is playing a pivotal role in the rapidly accelerating roll-out of superfast broadband – respected nationwide for training the next generation of telecommunications workers.

“It’s strange to look back at how it all happened but it’s incredible what’s we’ve created here,” says Roy, speaking from the training centre at Stockton’s Preston Farm Industrial estate.

Having readily accepted that he probably didn’t have a future as a male model, Roy walked signed up for The Army, initially as a driver in the Royal Engineers, before, crucially, switching to become a radio operator – his first tentative step into the world of telecommunications.

When he left the forces after 23 years’ service, Roy was doing some temporary work for Solihull College as an assessor for an Openreach project and, by chance, met someone who worked for Mike Carlin, who was in the process of establishing Map Group (UK) as a major player in the telecommunications industry at Stockton.

A meeting with Mike was arranged and it was destined to be an encounter that was to change Roy’s life. “Mike explained that he needed a training manager and then said ‘Why don’t we form a training company?’ We met on a Saturday and I started on the Monday!” recalls Roy.

Businessiq: The DTN training suiteThe DTN training suite

MAP Training was set up as an independent company and was later rebranded as Cablecom Training. It has been DTN (Digital Telecoms Network) Academy since 2019, with a focus now firmly on the growth of ‘fibre to the home’ delivery for superfast broadband.

Initially, the training arm was just a room, then it moved to premises in Thornaby before the current national training centre was built in 2010.

DTN Academy has thrived by growing its own talent and Geoff Wilson is a prime example. Having started as a telecoms engineer with MAP Electrics in 1999, and gaining a wealth of experience on various projects, he joined DTN Academy in 2010, initially as tutor trainer, then centre manager, and became Operations Director two years ago.

“We pride ourselves on maintaining the highest standards – the industry knows the quality of the training we provide here,” says Geoff. “What’s really satisfying is when you see people who’ve trained here go on to set up their own businesses and then send their employees back to us. That means a lot.”

An integral part of the company’s growth strategy was the appointment of Micky Lynch as Training Director, and he is another example of DTN Academy spotting potential and maximising talent.

Micky, from Thornaby, had studied bricklaying at Longlands College but his first job in that trade disappeared when the recession hit, and he switched to become a trainee telecommunications engineer with MAP Group in 2012.

Businessiq: Training Director Micky LynchTraining Director Micky Lynch

While working on an Openreach project in Birmingham, someone “small and skinny” was needed to fit through a loft-hatch to pull through some cables and Micky fitted the bill perfectly. “I suppose it helped get me noticed and I impressed with my work ethic,” he recalls.

He stayed on the project as that side of the business grew, progressed to lead engineer, and went on to become lead assessor for the Openreach network training. Much of the training was carried out at DTN Academy and Micky’s ability and passion for training didn’t go unnoticed. He was recruited to become DTN’s lead trainer two years ago and has just been promoted to Training Director.

DTN’s focus on telecoms has intensified and the business has gone from strength to strength, winning a series of major contracts, including becoming an Openreach PIA training supplier, an approved training provider for CityFibre, and a national training centre for Fujikura.

The academy is also a national apprenticeship provider, and has a contract to deliver training for the Tees Valley Combined Authority, mainly focusing on the unemployed.

Other DTN training centres are now being established at Peterlee, Newcastle, Swindon, London and Bristol.

Businessiq: Geoff Wilson and Micky Lynch in the poling fieldGeoff Wilson and Micky Lynch in the poling field

“There’s a massive shortage of skilled telecoms operators, and we’ve continued working right through the pandemic, getting people into jobs, and making a difference,” says Roy.

“There’s no better feeling than when you get people who lack confidence, and we help them conquer their insecurities through the training,” adds Micky. “It opens up a whole new world for them.”

As a former military man, it also gives Roy particular pride that the DTN Academy has carried out invaluable work in developing a resettlement programme with ex-forces personnel, and was awarded the Armed Forces Covenant gold award for that side of its operations.

But there is no chance of DTN Academy resting on its laurels, and there are ambitious plans for further growth, and the current staff of 18 will grow to in the near future as part of the expansion strategy.

Meanwhile, significant investment is also being made in the latest equipment and developing facilities, including “poling fields” to train people in how to work safely up telegraph poles, as well as underground training facilities.

In addition, academy staff go into local schools and colleges to spread the word about the career paths available to boys and girls, and DTA is also registered as a careers adviser with the TVCA.

Businessiq: A training session in the poling fieldA training session in the poling field

And there’s plenty of evidence that the DTN training formula is working. Around 300 trainees come through the centre every year and, remarkably, 80 per cent of those begin a new career in the sector.

“We’ve got a fantastic team, great relationships with all the job centres, and we want to hear from telecoms businesses about how we can help with their training needs,” says Roy. “Our aim is to be the ‘go to’ provider for telecoms training in the country.”

When it comes to training excellence, DTN Academy has become a model for Teesside to be proud of…

KARIMA’S STORY

Karima Bateman’s background was in the hair and beauty industry but, after carrying out research into the telecommunications sector, she noticed it was male-dominated and decided to try to break the mould.

She signed up for the four-week programme at DTN Academy and faced her greatest challenge – a fear of heights in having to scale a telegraph pole as part of the training. She struggled on her first attempt, but after words of encouragement from her tutor, went on to pass with flying colours.

Karima is now committed to securing experience in the field to further her skills and knowledge, and she has ambitions to progress into management.

She says: “The tutors at DTN Academy have been brilliant, providing me with as much support as possible. Even when I lacked belief, they reassured me that I can complete anything I put my mind to. The tutors have given me self-confidence and I would like to tell all future female learners that, if I can do it, anyone can do it, and it will be great to see more females in this industry.”

  • To find out more about training for a career in the telecommunications industry, go to www.dtnacademy.com. You can also email info@dtnacademy.com, call in at the centre in person, or ask about DTN Academy at your local job centre.