The federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) is providing states with unprecedented amounts of funding to deploy broadband infrastructure, improve affordability and ensure meaningful adoption in communities. Governors are also making record investments in high-speed internet to grow state economies and empower people to fully participate in our digital society. Yet up to 205,000 fiber optic technicians, as well as thousands of additional engineers and construction workers, will be needed over the next five years to realize these goals amid drastic workforce shortages across industries.
During the National Governor Association’s (NGA) April 2023 Broadband Leaders Workshop, Governors’ broadband advisors and broadband office directors, federal agency leaders, and broadband providers, nonprofits, and NGA Partners gathered to share best practices and discuss opportunities and challenges presented by the federal Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program and other federal and state broadband measures.
As meeting the need for more workers remains a top priority for states as they prepare to implement their broadband plans, broadband advisors and partners heard from three states with innovative strategies for developing the broadband talent pipeline. Moderated by Kevin Gallagher, Senior Advisor to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, the panel featured Veneeth Iyengar, Louisiana’s Executive Director for Broadband Development and Connectivity; Peter Voderberg, Office Chief of Broadband Ohio; and Christine Hallquist, Executive Director of the Vermont Community Broadband Board. The conversation highlighted three promising models for expanding the broadband workforce:
- Leveraging sector partnerships;
- Investing in apprenticeship; and
- Partnering with community colleges.
Ohio: Leveraging Sector Partnerships
Sector partnerships combine the capacity of the public workforce system with the expertise of private sector employers to develop industry-driven talent pipelines and have a demonstrated track record of meeting employer talent needs while supporting access to well-paying jobs. States can consider applying high-quality sector partnership models to address talent needs in the broadband sector. For example, the Ohio Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation and BroadbandOhio led a $3 million effort to develop the Ohio Broadband and 5G Sector Partnership, hosted by the Ohio State University and the Wireless Infrastructure Association. The partnership includes 26 partners across industry, education, and government who will design curriculum and training programs and promote career awareness to meet the state’s broadband workforce needs. The partnership is a key element of the Ohio Broadband and 5G Workforce Strategy – a detailed framework that addresses career awareness, education and training, and state and federal funding.
Vermont: Investing in Apprenticeship
Apprenticeships offer an accessible, affordable training pathway for jobseekers looking for high-paying, sustainable careers, and they can be an effective strategy to meet the needs of both workers and employers – benefits that are applicable in the broadband sector. The Vermont Community Broadband Board partnered with the Vermont Department of Labor and Vermont Technical College to launch a broadband installer technician apprenticeship program to expand the workforce required to build and maintain the state’s fiber optic network. The program provides free training that includes both classroom and online instruction and on-the-job training with local employers. The skills and credentials participants earn through this program also lead to career pathways in information technology, smart grid, and engineering jobs. Additionally, since apprenticeship programs generally provide wages and tuition coverage, apprenticeships create on-ramps for a more diverse workforce, helping states to meet the equity goals of federal broadband programs.
Louisiana: Partnering with Community Colleges
In Louisiana, the ConnectLA Broadband Team has found that developing and implementing a statewide strategy to recruit and train the broadband workforce requires coordination and collaboration with local education and training partners of many kinds. For example, collaboration with the state’s community and technical college system has been a cornerstone of the statewide strategy. The Louisiana Office of Broadband Development and Connectivity (ConnectLA) partnered with the Louisiana Community and Technical College System (LCTCS) to leverage the system’s footprint in each one of the state’s parishes to reach workers in every corner of the state. ConnectLA and LCTCS are codeveloping and scaling broadband training programs and conducting a robust regional stakeholder engagement process to strengthen partnerships between local broadband employers and training providers. ConnectLA also encouraged applicants to the Granting Unserved Municipalities Broadband Opportunities (GUMBO) program to submit a workforce plan that includes a letter from at least one LCTCS institution noting their commitment to being part of the project.
This article was developed by Sophia Yager, Policy Analyst in the NGA Center for Best Practices. For more information on Governors’ workforce development efforts, please contact our Workforce Development and Economic Policy team at: firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on Governors’ broadband deployment efforts, please contact Tom Curtin.