Bell Atlantic Honors First New England Graduates of Higher Education and High-Tech Training Program
95 Employees Earn Associates Degrees, Gain Customer Care Skills
June 7, 2000
SPRINGFIELD - Ninety-five Bell Atlantic union-represented technicians will be honored Thursday (6/8) as the first New England graduates of the company's precedent-setting higher education program called Next Step.
The graduates will be honored at a ceremony at Springfield Technical Community College (STCC), in Springfield, Mass.
Graduates of the Next Step program earn associate degrees in applied science with a focus on telecommunications technology. In addition to STCC, the New England graduates earned the degrees from: Central Maine Technical College, Auburn, Maine; Massasoit Community College in Brockton and Canton, Mass.; Middlesex Community College, Lowell, Mass.; New Hampshire Community Technical College, Nashua, N.H.; Community College of Rhode Island, Warwick, R.I.; and Vermont Technical College, Randolph Center, Vt.
In addition to gaining advanced technological, problem solving and customer relations skills, the graduates were promoted to a higher-level technical job and received a pay increase.
Next Step emphasizes teamwork, leadership, critical thinking and customer focus. In New England the program is administered jointly by Bell Atlantic and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).
Serving as the lead college of the program, STCC handles all academic administrative matters and is the site for a recognition ceremony and luncheon for the graduates. The event, sponsored jointly by Bell Atlantic and IBEW, will be on Thursday, June 8, from 10:00 a.m. until noon, in Scibelli Hall theater on the STCC campus. (Members of the media are invited to attend. Those interested should call Setta McCabe, STCC at 413-755-4475.)
STCC President Dr. Andrew M. Scibelli will give opening remarks. The keynote speakers will include Bell Atlantic President and Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Babbio, Jr., IBEW National Director of Telecommunications William Davis, and New England Board of Higher Education President John C. Hoy.
"In the Information Age, the key to our company's success lies in the skills, dedication and problem-solving abilities of our employees," said Babbio. "Next Step gives our people the right set of tools to help us compete-and win-in an increasingly volatile marketplace."
Next Step was established as a result of the 1994 collective bargaining agreement between the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the IBEW and NYNEX, which has since merged with Bell Atlantic. The program, which began in New York in 1995 and in New England in 1996, was the first of its kind in the country.
"This program has given our Bell Atlantic members in New England the opportunity to go back to school and attend classes on company time, while doing their homework on their own time," said Davis. "Although they will make more money and have an increased pension as a result of graduating, I believe the pride and self-esteem they have gained is just as important to them."
Robert Reich, then U.S. Secretary of Labor, has praised Next Step as a pioneering model of workforce development for labor and high-tech companies throughout the country. Vice President Gore has also cited the program as a successful effort to promote lifelong learning for employees.
"Among the college degrees awarded across New England this Spring, the first class of Next Step deserve Phi Beta Kappa keys for breaking new ground, extraordinary personal motivation, shared leadership and teamwork," said Hoy. "They each exemplify a model of what lifelong technology education will be in the 21st century. Bell Atlantic and IBEW clearly brought the concept to the right colleges and at the right time."
Next Step students attend class at the participating colleges one day a week-on company time-for four years. In addition, the students are required to complete 15 to 20 hours of homework each week on their own time.
The Next Step curriculum is made up of 16 courses, including mathematics, electronics, English, physics, and telecommunications. Each student is assigned a laptop computer, which they use for their classwork and for E-mail communication with other students and their instructors. Bell Atlantic pays all costs for the program, including tuition, textbooks, calculators and computers. Each college in the program has a coordinator who works closely with Bell Atlantic and the IBEW to ensure that the program runs smoothly.
Because of the heavy workload, Next Step students must carefully balance the demands of the program and their jobs with the time they spend with their friends and families.
Some of the graduates had not been in a classroom for more than 20 years, and they had to re-learn many of the skills-such as effective studying and notetaking-that younger students may take for granted.
Currently, 1,800 Bell Atlantic employees are enrolled in Next Step at 26 community and technical colleges throughout New York and New England. To qualify for the program, students must meet several criteria, including passing an aptitude test that measures skills in reading, writing, numerical reasoning and elementary algebra.
Bell Atlantic is at the forefront of the new communications and information industry. With more than 44 million telephone access lines and more than 20 million wireless customers worldwide, Bell Atlantic companies are premier providers of advanced wireline voice and data services, market leaders in wireless services and the world's largest publishers of directory information. Bell Atlantic companies are also among the world's largest investors in high-growth global communications markets, with operations and investments in 23 countries.