States Must Increase Broadband Workforce to Keep Up With New Infrastructure

Unprecedented federal spending on broadband is helping drive the need for more broadband workers.

States Must Increase Broadband Workforce to Keep Up With New Infrastructure
Screenshot of Jon Schnur, CEO of America Achieves

WASHINGTON, July 12, 2022 – State governments must do more to expand the workforce that builds, maintains and runs America’s broadband infrastructure, agreed a panel of experts at the Pew Charitable Trusts’ recent Broadband Access Summit.

Jon Schnur, CEO of nonprofit policy research house America Achieves, argued that states that fail to act soon will face both short- and long-term labor shortages in the broadband sector as well as a corresponding inability to provide adequate internet coverage to their citizens.

“When you think about those jobs plans, don’t just think about what you need today, but what are you going to need five, ten years down the road, because we’re building an infrastructure that’s going to create a new connected economy, and we need that workforce to be built,” added Samantha Schartman-Cycyk, the panel’s moderator and the president of the Marconi Society.

“When it comes to sustaining [the broadband workforce] long term…partnerships and stakeholder engagement become so critical,” said Rachael Stephens, director of workforce development and economic policy for the National Governors Association.

Stephens urged state officials to “braid in” partner institutions – including the federal government, private industry and educational institutions – to create a stable training pipeline from which broadband companies can hire skilled workers in the coming decades. Felicia Sullivan, a director of research and evaluation at nonprofit Jobs for the Future, argued that partnerships between state officials and local community leaders are integral to long-term success as well.

Some states are already working to build up the necessary human capital for their broadband sectors. Eric Leach of the Ohio Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation explained how the state is recruiting more workers: “We have the Individual Microcredential Assistance Program, which allows…those Ohioans who lack opportunity the ability to go through these training programs at no cost to them.”

The Buckeye State last year introduced new tower technician programs in several colleges to prepare students for that future.

Getting young people involved

Panelists also spoke about the need for outreach to young people. The panel agreed that many young people currently have inaccurate assumptions about what a career in telecommunications is like or aren’t even aware of available jobs in the industry. Leach added that educating parents is is a necessary step toward getting their children interested in the broadband field.

The panel’s discussion occurred against a backdrop of unprecedented federal investment in broadband infrastructure, including broadband workforce funding earmarked from the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act. The panelists noted, however, that federal dollars will do little good if trained workers are not available to build and maintain new projects. On the other hand, the panelists agreed that states – like Ohio – that prioritize the expansion of their broadband workforces will provide thousands of citizens with high-paying jobs.

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