Editor's Note: The Digital Access for All (DA4A) initiative launched by The Patterson Foundation (TPF) has been working to connect and engage with the Charlotte, Desoto, Manatee, and Sarasota region to strengthen individuals, organizations, and communities while striving to enhance digital equity, a driver of economic competitiveness. Digital equity provides a catalyst allowing businesses to grow and compete and may address critical workforce needs for the future. In a recent article, Karen suggested that one of the most effective ways to build economic competitiveness is to create quality jobs that support broadband expansion, including competitive pay and benefits, and provide economic mobility for all.
Last month I reviewed a Lightcast Occupational Snapshot report highlighting data for the Northport, Bradenton, Sarasota MSA for telecommunication equipment installers and repairers, except for line installers. Studying the Snapshot provided a glimpse into the types of training, upskilling, and apprenticeships that may be needed to ensure a strong broadband workforce to meet the goals and timelines of the national broadband expansion program (BEAD) Program. Effective strategies are required to prepare the future broadband workforce by planning for jobs that include increased pay and career pathways to ensure resilient, competitive, equitable communities.
I recently scanned the websites of three major internet service providers serving the region to determine the recruitment and outreach strategies deployed to make hires from the inclusive community. Each provider has more than 100 job openings in fields such as sales, project management, business operations, field operations, engineering, networking, logistics, infotech, customer service, production, technicians, system engineers, call centers, and technical operations, to name a few. In addition, they each have a robust diversity, equity, and inclusion statement on their website and invite persons who feel they can add value to apply regardless of experience. One of the companies has set up resource groups to support diverse employees, such as persons with disabilities, LGBTQ, multicultural, veterans, and women providing an opportunity to network and develop careers.
Internet service provider websites show a number of strategies to provide outreach and recruitment to underserved communities. These include early career programs that provide internships, mentoring opportunities, and scholarships for college students and new graduates. These initiatives can provide valuable hands-on experience to jumpstart careers in field operations through immersive programs with real-world projects. One company's community impact program provides financial assistance and resources for community centers, digital education, employee community grants, and a Community Investment Loan Fund. Through work with partners, the companies have been promoting equity for decades; this includes bringing broadband and digital skills training to underserved families, creating opportunities for underrepresented entrepreneurs, and amplifying diverse voices.
These outreach and recruitment strategies aimed at underrepresented communities are important for creating quality jobs that support broadband expansion, including competitive pay and benefits, and provide economic mobility for all. As TPF works to connect and engage the communities in our four-county region, we do so with a focus on improved economic outcomes and increasing opportunities for Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed (ALICE) persons who often find it challenging to find jobs with wages that can support a basic household budget. The ALICE study demonstrates that even workers in professional occupations, such as teachers, are taking on second jobs due to inadequate wages.
The 2020 Regional Equity Report states that having a full-time job does not always provide families with a pathway out of poverty. This is especially true for racial and ethnic groups who are more likely to earn below the poverty line. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic hit communities of color particularly hard, and even with improvement in the economy, they may lag behind other groups. Finally, the average hourly wage in racial and ethnic groups in the region is an indicator of differences in access to economic opportunity.
In my next article, I will feature interviews with persons from each of these companies to find out how they included the diverse community in discussions around broadband expansion and additional steps taken to provide outreach to underserved communities to fill jobs. In addition, we will discuss addressing economic competitiveness in underserved communities through workforce training, upskilling, and re-skilling to develop the broadband workforce. Finally, we will talk about unmet workforce needs for each company and strategies designed to recruit and retain an equity-driven skilled workforce.