Ex-Convicts Possible Solution to Broadband Workforce Shortage Concerns

Convicts are given transferable hard and soft skills in the system, says expert.

Ex-Convicts Possible Solution to Broadband Workforce Shortage Concerns
Photo of John Gabriel of CEO

WASHINGTON, July 26, 2023 – Ex-convicts are a solution to the workforce shortage in telecommunications, said John Gabriel, senior advisor of external affairs at the Center for Employment Opportunities.

Although specific telecom skills are not often taught in prisons, many people in the system are taught technical skills like electronics manufacturing that are tech related and are a springboard to developing more technical expertise, Gabriel said during a Fiber Broadband Association event Wednesday.

Broadband providers are facing looming workforce deficiencies as federal funds come down the pipeline and create more job opportunities. Industry leaders are concerned that the workforce pool is not growing larger but rather that companies are taking employees from other desperately understaffed industries. Prisons provide a way to increase the workforce pool, Gabriel said.

While incarcerated, convicts are given many opportunities for education, including English courses, high school equivalent certification, and advanced education courses. Additionally, prisons provide convicts with self-help solutions such as victim awareness, anger management, narcotics anonymous and peer mentorship, among others. In fact, many prisoners have opportunities to get on-the job training for in-prison positions like cooking, clerical work, barbering, forestry, and firefighting, he added.

Not only do ex-convicts receiving hard skill training, but the unique experience in prison develops transferable soft skills including communication, problem solving, ability to work in high stress environments, and interpersonal skills, said Gabriel.

Gabriel urged the telecom industry to be willing to evaluate an applicant’s skills before considering an applicant’s past convictions. Doing so will eliminate barriers to employment and improve talent acquisition in the company, he said.

Technical and worker shortages have been flagged by government officials, including Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, as a key area of concern for broadband builds.

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