Photo: Equitable Broadband Workforce

Building and Deploying the Equitable Broadband Workforce

Posted on December 17, 2022 by Karen Stewart, Digital Access for All Engagement Team
Since launching The Patterson Foundation’s Digital Access for All (DA4A) initiative in June 2020, the team has been connecting and engaging the four-county (Charlotte, Desoto, Manatee, and Sarasota) region. The goal is to strengthen individuals, organizations, and communities while striving to enhance access to technology that connects people in ways that foster inclusion and wellbeing. A key component of digital equity includes increasing economic competitiveness. Effective strategies to prepare displaced and disadvantaged workers for better jobs, including increased pay and career pathways, are vital to ensure resilient, competitive, equitable communities.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program will drive historic investment in a skilled, competitive, and diverse workforce. Jobs created through investments in high-speed internet must offer fair compensation, a safe work environment, equitable access, and opportunities for long-term advancement. According to a Broadband Infrastructure Deployment Job Skills and Training Opportunities Working Group report, this effort will have positive economic, social, and health benefits for years to come. It is expected that billions in new wages and wealth will be created through the development of the infrastructure. To implement the BEAD program, each state will receive a $5 million planning and capacity-building grant which requires eligible entities to ensure robust workforce capacity for reaching project goals and timelines. This requires immediate attention, and the right plan must be quickly implemented if broadband infrastructure deployment is to sustain and advance US leadership in the space.

NTIA supports the development of an equity-driven telecommunications workforce, creating economic opportunities for women, people of color, and people in overlooked communities. The working group was tasked with finding ways to implement job skills training and development for the broadband infrastructure workforce of the future. Creating a plan that ensures greater opportunities for under-represented communities will require collaboration and engagement to maintain the equity focus. Workforce boards, technical colleges, community colleges, internet service providers, industry associations, civil rights and equity-focused organizations, unions and worker organizations, economic development organizations, and telecommunications employers must be part of the conversation. These groups must build understanding around broadband program objectives, align broadband and statewide workforce development programs, promote job opportunities, and ensure future talent pipeline.

The focus on diversity, equity, and economic mobility provides an opportunity for long-term economic stability and competitiveness. It is paramount that the broadband workforce of the future is developed on inclusive-centered frameworks that mitigate barriers that limit workforce participation, such as physical barriers, language options, and childcare, and must focus on recruitment of the economically underserved. Qualified applicants will be recruited, especially from underserved communities, and will be provided family-sustaining benefits that promote security and mobility.

A significant challenge to the development of the workforce is what the working group referred to as the broadband identity crisis – potential workers and students do not know what the jobs and career paths are, how to enter the broadband industry or that the industry even exists. There is a need to increase the industry's visibility to an essential nature through the collaboration of industry leaders and workforce training providers. Furthermore, these jobs are not classified as high wage-high skill, even though these jobs can increase earning potential significantly in a short time through certification and training programs. Workforce Development Boards must elevate the visibility of employer needs and post-secondary training, support the creation of articulated content and coordination of standardization among training programs and develop credentialing and skill sets.

A memo from The Pew Charitable Trust mentions that states must consider funding to support programming, including curriculum development, recruiting new trainees, and financial assistance for new trainees through the training and placement process. Other funding sources can be leveraged from the private sector, philanthropic entities, and the federal government. The effectiveness of these programs can be measured by assessment of a trainee’s skill set before and after training, visual assessments, or snapshots of the learner’s ability and performance increase. Effectiveness can also be measured by social ownership or the ability to teach others after completing training.

Eligible entities for planning grants must have engaged partners and an engaged team in place, understand the landscape, and set workforce goals. This engagement is expected throughout the BEAD award performance and can contribute significantly to ensuring vital, resilient, competitive, and equitable communities.

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