Senators Introduce Bill to Address Telecom Workforce Shortage

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U.S. Sens. Roger Wicker, (R-MS), ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, Kyrsten Sinema, (D-AZ), and Tim Scott, (R-SC), Thursday introduced the Improving Minority Participation and Careers in Telecommunications (IMPACT) Act. The legislation would create a grant program through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) that would award $100 million in grants to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and Minority-serving Institutions to develop job training programs to educate and train students to participate in the telecommunications workforce. 

“There are thousands of vacant jobs that are needed to deploy broadband networks, but we do not have a trained workforce to fill them,” said Wicker. “HBCUs and TCUs can help fill these jobs by providing career-specific opportunities for students. The IMPACT Act would support these institutions in developing telecommunications-related career building programs that will help bridge the digital divide.”  

Sinema said: “We’re expanding opportunities for students from tribal communities to succeed in the jobs of the future while helping bridge the digital divide across Arizona,” while Scott added: “The Improving Minority Participation and Careers in Telecommunications (IMPACT) Act will harness the ingenuity of our nation’s HBCUs, TCUs, and MSIs to develop a workforce ready to participate in and lead the telecommunications industry.” 

The IMPACT Act would:

  • Create the “Telecommunications Workforce Training Grant Program,” which the NTIA would use to award $100 million in grants to HBCUs/TCUs/Minority-serving Institutions to develop telecommunications job-training programs that would educate and train students to participate in the telecommunications workforce;
  • Require schools to apply for grants in order to partner with industry (or an organization with experience providing workforce training to the telecommunications industry) to develop these programs, to ensure students have the skills they need for the workforce;
  • Allow schools to use the grants to hire and train faculty, design and develop the curriculum, pay for costs associated with instruction, fund internships and apprenticeships, and recruit and support students;
  • Require schools to include a plan to increase female participation in the program;
  • Require that NTIA award at least 30 percent of the grant funds to HBCUs, and another 30 percent to TCUs, to ensure equitable distribution of funds; and
  • Require reporting to ensure schools use funds as required, that they are training students appropriately, and that students are securing employment in the telecommunications industry. 

Several industry lobbying organizations praised the measure. “NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association is particularly excited that this is a bipartisan proposal that appropriately recognizes the critical importance of promoting educational and employment opportunities in the telecommunications field, which is so essential to the nation’s economy, competitiveness, security, and vital communications capabilities,” said NATE President/CEO Todd Schlekeway. “We commend Senators Wicker and Sinema for emphasizing funding to minority institutions, many of which are located in areas that lack access to high-speed broadband.”

CTIA SVP Government Affairs Kelly Cole said: “The swift deployment of 5G networks is critical to our economic recovery and closing the digital divide, and the wireless industry needs a robust, skilled workforce to meet our goals. This forward-thinking legislation will provide more opportunities for minorities, women and other underrepresented communities to secure stable, high-paying careers in the field, and will provide a vital boost to strengthen and expand the telecommunications workforce.”

Wireless Infrastructure Association President/CEO Jonathan Adelstein said the measure will provide opportunities for underrepresented Americans to learn skills that will lead to employment in the booming telecommunications industry. “As we build the wireless workforce of the future, the IMPACT Act will help to ensure inclusivity and diversity, while also helping to meet demand for skilled telecommunications workers.”

“A highly skilled broadband workforce goes hand in hand with maintaining our communications infrastructure and ensuring we all stay connected,” said USTelecom President/CEO Jonathan Spalter. “The essential nature of these frontline employees is just one lesson of the pandemic.” He called the measure “a forward-looking and bipartisan plan to help bridge the digital divide by directing critical federal dollars to HBCUs, TCUs and minority-serving institutions that will identify, train and employ the world’s best 5G and broadband workforce.”

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