UPDATE Ten groups representing the telecommunications industry Wednesday banded together to urge President Joe Biden and congressional leaders to support broadband-related job skills development as part of any infrastructure bill.
The associations include the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA), the Fiber Broadband Association (FBA), INCOMPAS, NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association, NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association, Power & Communication Contractors Association (PCCA), the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA), USTelecom – The Broadband Association, the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) and the Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA)
Biden and top congressional Democrats are preparing to secure a big increase in federal broadband spending this year, Inside Towers reported. They want to obtain billions of dollars in new government aid to improve internet access and affordability — and help people stay online during the pandemic.
“As you consider investments in broadband infrastructure, please also consider the opportunity to develop high-wage telecommunications jobs to speed the rollout, while also supporting pathways toward greater diversity, safety, and quality for many Americans,” the groups explain in a joint letter. “The U.S. currently faces a shortfall of skilled workers needed to deploy broadband across the country, to win the race to 5G, and to ensure robust fiber, mobile, and fixed wireless networks.”
They cite ensuring robust fiber, mobile, and fixed wireless networks by training the workforce through apprenticeships, telling the leaders this approach provides pathways toward greater diversity, safety, and quality of work. In the letter, the groups recommend that Congress and the Biden Administration, working with the Department of Labor, support employers to speed development of the broadband workforce, as well as the industry-led programs at technical schools and colleges that provide a pipeline to wireline and wireless jobs. The U.S. telecommunications industry employs 672,000 workers with average annual wages that exceed $77,500, according to the groups.
“We urge broadband infrastructure legislation to provide support for employers to expand registered apprenticeships and associated technical instruction and certification costs,” the organizations stress. Institutions of higher education “have not kept pace with the rapid growth of our industry” and the need for updated curricula, the groups explain.
The cost of not keeping pace and targeting funding toward telecom workforce development, they caution, is high. They emphasize: “Without a properly trained 5G workforce, China can use centralized authority to quickly focus labor resources to beat us to the finish line. We cannot build advanced networks to serve tomorrow’s needs without a properly skilled and diverse workforce today.”
To ensure funds target actual needs, employers should drive public-private partnerships with community colleges, universities, and other institutions to develop degrees and programs of study on broadband deployment and 5G training, the groups believe. They tell leaders, “The telecommunications industry is committed to developing partnerships with institutions of higher education to help translate job requirements from employers during the curriculum development process. Targeted institutions should include Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Tribal Colleges and Universities,” the groups emphasize.