FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
JUNE 23, 2022
America Achieves Contact:
AMERICA ACHIEVES RELEASES REPORT WITH PLAYBOOK TO HELP STATES AND U.S. TERRITORIES DEVELOP THEIR BROADBAND WORKFORCE, A CRITICAL STEP ON THE PATH TO EXTENDING INTERNET ACCESS TO TENS OF MILLIONS OF PEOPLE IN RURAL AND OTHER LOW-INCOME COMMUNITIES
States and Territories That Fail to Address Workforce Challenges in Their Plans Risk Failure to Achieve Needed Broadband Access and Loss of Billions of Dollars in Incoming, Historic Federal Investments to Expand Broadband Nationwide
Prepared in Partnership with Rural Innovation Strategies, Inc. (RISI), Report also Includes Original Analysis by Emsi Burning Glass Detailing Broadband Workforce Needs and Career Pathways
CLEVELAND – With tens of millions of people from a range of backgrounds across the nation unable to access even low-grade broadband service, to say nothing of the information, health-care, and education available through those high-tech portals, President Biden last year signed into law the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), and with it, a one-time, $42.45 billion investment that offered the prospect of expanding such service to unserved and underserved communities and regions.
But the hurdles to increasing broadband access across the nation cannot be vaulted – nor will the return on those historic federal investments ever be realized – if states and territories don’t take action now to ensure training and hiring tens of thousands of skilled workers to undertake those critical, broadband roles.
Last week, President Biden launched a “Talent Pipeline Challenge” at a White House roundtable, at which Jon Schnur, the CEO of the non-profit organization America Achieves, was among the participants. The challenge is meant to address workforce needs in broadband, among other sectors. On the heels of that announcement, America Achieves, in partnership with Rural Innovation Strategies, Inc., today announced the release of the first edition of a new broadband workforce report, supported by Schmidt Futures, a philanthropic initiative founded by Eric and Wendy Schmidt. The report was released in Cleveland at the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Broadband Access Summit, a two-day gathering of local, state and federal officials from across the nation, as well as industry experts and nonprofit leaders.
Intended for states and territories, the playbook aligns closely with the workforce requirements detailed in the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program at the U.S. Department of Commerce, as set forth in the IIJA. Indeed, states and territories that fail to account for workforce provisions in their plans risk losing access to that money. The Commerce Department’s requirements to include workforce–and enabling BEAD funding to support workforce development aligned to broadband needs – are crucial to help states and territories achieve their goals to ensure broadband access and deployment.
Entitled “Creating and Expanding a Diverse Broadband Workforce with Good Jobs and Career Pathways: Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program Playbook for Eligible Entities,” the report was developed with input from nearly 40 key stakeholder groups and is intended to serve as a helpful resource guide for states and territories as they complete applications and plans for the BEAD Program–and more generally as they ensure a skilled workforce that is deployed to make broadband access possible. Notably, the report:
- Outlines ways key stakeholders–including states, federal agencies, employers, , institutes of higher education, other training providers, intermediaries, and labor organizations–will need to play a critical role to develop the workforce necessary to expand broadband to all. The report recommends six categories of important steps states and territories should consider taking:
- Appoint a broadband workforce director and staff and develop a broadband workforce strategic plan;
- Convene employers and other key stakeholders to advance meaningful collaboration and mutual commitments;
- Collect, analyze, and use current and needed broadband workforce data;
- Identify additional funding sources that could be used for broadband workforce development;
- Working with employers, build and scale evidence-based programs and practices with measurable job outcomes to train new and existing broadband workers; and
- Recruit and grow a skilled diverse broadband workforce.
- Includes an original analysis detailing national broadband workforce needs and career pathways, including feeder and next-step occupations, which can inform needed career pathways maps and published here for the first time, as prepared by Emsi Burning Glass and supported by America Achieves; and
- Launches what will be a suite of materials designed to support a range of stakeholders.
The report responds to the reality that the country likely does not have a large or diverse enough workforce skilled and deployed to make good on the new broadband investment without taking significant steps, including engaging unemployed and underemployed workers from this sector and adjacent sectors. With other infrastructure funding being released around the same time in an already tight labor market, there will likely be increased competition for workers, making forward thinking and advance planning essential.
The BEAD Program “provides federal funding for grants to Eligible Entities (states and territories) for broadband planning, deployment, mapping, equity, and adoption activities,” focusing on underserved and unserved areas. This investment comes at a time when nearly 20 million people (and perhaps as many as 40 million by some estimates) from a range of backgrounds lack access to even low-grade broadband service. (FCC maps coming out later this year will provide a more accurate count.) COVID-19 has made this crisis all the more urgent, as high-quality, high-speed internet has become essential for health, education, work, public safety, social connection, and more in an increasingly digital world.
Developing the broadband workforce necessary to deliver on this investment is a foundational first step for any state or territory that is looking to expand broadband. While states and territories may be at different points in their broadband expansion efforts, this report provides a resource for all applicants, regardless of their current status. Without the workforce, broadband projects, funded by the BEAD Program or otherwise, may be long-term delayed or, worse, impossible to realize, with workforce as a bottleneck issue.
America Achieves and its partners plan to stage and facilitate a series of virtual conversations partly anchored in the recommendations and findings of the report, at which a range of stakeholders will also be able to share their own best practices, feedback, and needs. Those discussions are expected to inform and augment future editions of the report. America Achieves also welcomes written feedback and comments to inform future editions of this report; any comments or interest in scheduling a conversation with our team can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
America Achieves commends this historic investment and the U.S. Department of Commerce for its inclusion of workforce development as a critical component for state plans and applications for BEAD Program funding. America Achieves also thanks all of the stakeholders who provided insight for their important work that has helped shape the report.
“Universal and equitable access to high-speed internet is a crucial element of fair economic and life opportunity for everyone in our country. In tight labor markets, achieving this goal will be much harder to achieve without concerted action now to ensure a skilled, diverse workforce trained and deployed to do this work. Moreover, with a historic $42.5 billion investment coming from the U.S. Department of Commerce over the next few years, states and territories risk losing the opportunity to make this happen and access their share of this one-time funding unless they get this right.
– Jon Schnur, CEO, America Achieves
“States and territories have the opportunity to help thousands of people into great paying, lifelong careers in the telecom sector. But growing our broadband workforce is not just an opportunity – it is a necessity if we want to build broadband efficiently and effectively across the country. This report gives government leaders clear direction to get started on this critical issue as soon as possible.”
– Alex Kelley, Head of Broadband Consulting, Rural Innovation Strategies, Inc.
“To design workforce development programs that meet the needs of employers and job seekers, our research shows the importance of engaging employers as partners while also relying on labor market and other data. This resource reflects these important principles as part of a roadmap for building the nation’s broadband workforce and helping workers access good jobs and careers.”
– Shayne Spaulding, Senior Fellow, Urban Institute