New Broadband Workers Can Be Enticed By High Wages, Career Advancement: Experts

WASHINGTON, November 3, 2022 – An emphasis on long-term opportunities for career advancement and wage growth is key to building a sustainable broadband workforce, said panelists at Wednesday’s Broadband Breakfast Live Online event.

“What we’re focused on in Ohio is building out career pathways so that individuals can understand what the different paths there are for them to move up in the industry,” said Eric Leach, deputy director of Ohio Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation. “It’s really about creating a career ladder,” he added.

Last year, Ohio announced partnerships with colleges and career centers to build the broadband workforce. The state also awarded a $3 million grant to The Ohio State University to develop a state-wide curriculum for budding broadband and 5G workers.

Although the entry-level wage for many broadband industry workers isn’t comparatively high, workers can quickly advance – all the way to small-business ownership, said Kelley Dunne, president and CEO of AmeriCrew, a workforce training company for veterans.

AmeriCrew trains its technicians to be versatile, Dunne explained, giving them latitude to move from broadband to other fields, such as electric vehicles or clean energy.

“We’ve avoided calling them anything other than a ‘national infrastructure technician’ to give them that flexibility to evolve their career,” Dunne added.

“There are just an incredible amount of even management positions that would be well-suited to develop through an apprentice program,” said Deb Bennett, director of apprenticeship for the Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program at the Wireless Infrastructure Association.

Last week, the WIA announced a partnership with the Fiber Broadband Association to mutually promote the two organizations’ workforce development programs, TIRAP and the Optical Telecom Installer Certification, respectively.

Deborah Kish, vice president of research and workforce development at the FBA, estimated that the fiber industry will need 205,000 new workers by 2026.

Why the industry needs workers

The broadband industry is awash in federal funds. The Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 allocated $65 billion for investments in broadband, the largest chunk – $42.5 billion – going to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program. The federal government’s other broadband-related funding programs include the Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect program, the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, and the Treasury Department’s Capital Projects Fund.

The NTIA requires states receiving BEAD funds to “develop a highly skilled workforce and ensure that subgrantees do the same.”

Setting aside funding is just one step in universalizing internet connectivity, however. To make the most of public dollars, network deployment and adoption projects require good maps, coordination between state officials and local communities, and a skilled workforce, according to experts.

The White House promotes workforce development

In June, the White House announced the “Talent Pipeline Challenge,” which encouraged employers to partner with training providers. President Joe Biden on Wednesday lauded industry responses to the challenge, including the WIA–FBA partnership and a more-than-$80-billion workforce investment from Lumen Technologies.

NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association announced Wednesday a series of workforce-development partnerships with Wisconsin’s Northwood Technical College, the National Rural Education Association, and the Communications Workers of America in response to the White House’s challenge.

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. Watch the event on Broadband Breakfast, or REGISTER HERE to join the conversation.

Wednesday, November 2, 2022, 12 Noon ET – Workforce Development Measures

For months, industry experts have been warning that future labor shortages will risk states’ ability to maintain adequate internet coverage unless they take action to sustain and expand the dwindling broadband workforce. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes crucial funding for telecom workforce training, and the Labor Department is investing in innovative virtual reality training tools. Some states are implementing new broadband curriculums and developing apprenticeship programs in hopes of not only growing the workforce but also ensuring that workers have the necessary training and experience to support the future of broadband. But will these measures be enough to fend off the labor shortage looming over the broadband industry?

Panelists

  • Patrick Halley (keynote address), President & CEO, The Wireless Infrastructure Association
  • Debbie Kish, Vice President of Research & Workforce Development, Fiber Broadband Association
  • Deb Bennett, Director of Apprenticeship, Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program (TIRAP) at the Wireless Infrastructure Association
  • Eric Leach, Deputy Director, Ohio Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation
  • Shane Matthews, Director of Training and Development, ElectriCom LLC
  • Kelley Dunne, President & CEO, AmeriCrew
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Panelist resources:

  • States Must Increase Broadband Workforce to Keep Up With New Infrastructure, Broadband Breakfast, July 12, 2022
  • Apprenticeship Programs Important for Telecommunications Workforce, Agency Leaders Say, Broadband Breakfast, March 8, 2022
  • Lack of Adequate Workforce Expected to Hamper Broadband Industry, Says Panel, Broadband Breakfast, October 4, 2022

Patrick Halley (keynote address) is President and Chief Executive Officer of the Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA). WIA represents over 140 companies that develop, build, own and operate the nation’s wireless infrastructure and is the leading authority on all things wireless.

Debbie Kish is a former Gartner analyst, where she spent more than 21 years advising telecom carriers, technology suppliers and investors on emerging technologies, applications, target markets, competitive landscapes and business models. At the Fiber Broadband Association, she directs marketing strategy and leads the development of research and survey programs. Kish also drives the creation of education, training and certification programs to advance the FBA’s workforce development efforts.

Training tomorrow’s leaders in the infrastructure workforce is Deb Bennett’s specific challenge and inspiration. In her current role with WIA, she not only serves as the Director of Apprenticeship for TIRAP (Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program), she also consults on education/workforce development issues, and advises WWLF (Women’s Wireless Leadership Forum).

Eric Leach joined the Ohio Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation in February of 2021 and currently serves as the Deputy Director. The Office of Workforce Transformation’s mission is to connect Ohio’s business, training, and education communities to build a dynamically skilled, productive, and purposeful workforce.

Shane Matthews is the Director of Training and Development at ElectriCom LLC. He bring with him a background in education and experience in both construction and lean manufacturing. At ElectriCom, he oversees the ongoing training of their current workforce, their NEO program, their apprenticeship programs, and the professional development of their leadership.

Kelley Dunne is currently CEO and President of AmeriCrew. He also currently serves as the Chairman of Warriors4Wireless, a national non-profit that he co-founded that helps recruit, train and place transitioning veterans for the Wireless Industry. Prior to Americrew, Kelley was CEO of Novation Enterprise and the CEO of One Economy, a global non-profit that provides technology to under-served communities, and has more than 30+ years of experience in the telecommunications industry and is recognized as an industry pioneer in deploying some of the first 4G broadband wireless capacities across the country.

Drew Clark (moderator) is CEO of Breakfast Media LLC, the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, he served as head of the State Broadband Initiative in Illinois. Now, in light of the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, attorney Clark helps fiber-based and wireless clients secure funding, identify markets, broker infrastructure and operate in the public right of way.

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