FACT SHEET: Creating and Expanding a Diverse Broadband Workforce with Good Jobs and Career Pathways: Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program Playbook for Eligible Entities

A New Report with Playbook from America Achieves, in Partnership with Rural Innovation Strategies, Inc., and Featuring Original Analysis from Emsi Burning Glass

June 23, 2022

WHAT: A new report from America Achieves, in partnership with Rural Innovation Strategies Inc., examines the critical need for the development of a robust and diverse workforce with the skills to take on good jobs across the broadband industry – and outlines how states and territories can use new federal investments (and other dollars) to meet that important, time-sensitive goal, among others. The report is supported by Schmidt Futures, a philanthropic initiative founded by Eric and Wendy Schmidt.

Notably, the report also includes an original broadband workforce analysis, prepared by Emsi Burning Glass and supported by America Achieves, that details national-level, critical broadband workforce occupations and their credential requirements, as well as a range of potential broadband career pathways for workers. 

WHY: The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, signed into law last year, allocated a one-time $42.5 billion  investment in broadband expansion through the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), an agency within the Department of Commerce. The BEAD Program “provides federal funding for grants to Eligible Entities (states and territories) for broadband planning, deployment, mapping, equity, and adoption activities.” It prioritizes locations that are  unserved (no access to broadband at speeds of at least 25/3 Mbps) and underserved (no access to service of at least 100/20 Mbps). 

Last month NTIA issued a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for the BEAD program. Of significant importance: the NOFO includes workforce development as a critical component of state plans and applications for funding. Without the workforce, broadband expansion projects (in the BEAD Program and beyond) may be long-term delayed or, worse, impossible to realize.

WHAT’S AT STAKE: States and territories that fail to develop plans to attract, train, and retain the necessary workforce risk losing access to billions of dollars in new, federal broadband investments, not to mention the risk of failing to connect the 20 to 40 million people without access to even low-grade broadband to high-speed internet.

HOW: The report is intended to serve as a playbook 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. It also details the ways other key stakeholders (such as employers, federal agencies, 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 compiles and builds upon best practices from across the country–both in broadband expansion and workforce development, with broadband examples from states like Ohio, Vermont, and others, as well as sectoral training evidence from Harvard and more. 

Highlighted in the report are six categories of important steps states and territories should consider taking to help ensure they have the broadband workforce they need. These steps are connected to corresponding recommendations and requirements for workforce development, as detailed in the NOFO. Those steps (detailed further in the report) are:

  1. Appoint a broadband workforce director and staff and develop a broadband workforce strategic plan;
  2. Convene employers and other key stakeholders to advance meaningful collaboration and mutual commitments;
  3. Collect, analyze, and use current and needed broadband workforce data;
  4. Identify additional funding sources that could be used for broadband workforce development;
  5. Working with employers, build and scale evidence-based programs and practices with measurable job outcomes to train new and existing broadband workers; and
  6. Recruit and grow a skilled diverse broadband workforce.

The report also emphasizes how any workforce plan for broadband must also be looking ahead to longer term broadband needs for states and territories, and should not solely focus just on how to meet the needs of the BEAD Program investments. Broadband is and will be a bigger endeavor than this historic investment.

EMPLOYER COMMITMENTS: Of critical importance throughout the report is how Eligible Entities bring employers, among other groups, to the table and work with them to create a broadband workforce development ecosystem that benefits employers, workers, and residents in need of broadband alike, bringing the country closer to the goal of high-speed internet access for all. Employer commitments can also help make a workforce strategy a success. Examples of employer commitments, as detailed in the report, include:

  • Establishing contingent hiring goals; 
  • Reviewing and modifying HR policies to ensure inclusive practices; 
  • Helping form or support collaboratives/intermediaries to address and help coordinate shared workforce needs and provide technical assistance to employers; 
  • Engaging in a sector partnership to expand broadband career pathways and develop consistency across employers on needed hiring levels by type of job and skillset, job titles, required skills, certifications, and education levels; 
  • Partnering with local community colleges and other higher education and workforce providers; 
  • Providing easy-to-access scholarships and earn and learn opportunities to help individuals, particularly from low-income or underrepresented backgrounds; and 
  • Providing in-kind participation of senior leaders. 

BROADBAND WORKFORCE DATA: The report also includes an original broadband workforce analysis, prepared by Emsi Burning Glass and supported by America Achieves. This research details national-level, critical broadband workforce occupations and their credential requirements, as well as pathways into (aka “feeder occupations”) and out of (aka “destination occupations” or “next step occupations”) those high-demand occupations in the broadband sector. The report recommends the development of career pathways to both help with recruitment and as a tool for workers in the sector. For example, for the position of Broadband/Satellite Technician (O*NET/CPS: “Telecommunications Equipment Installers and Repairers, Except Line Installers”), the analysis found the following:

Feeder Occupations to “Broadband/Satellite Technician”Next Step Occupations from “Broadband/Satellite Technician”
– Insulation Worker
– Television/Stateline
– Television InstallerTelemarketer
– Electrical Substation/Relay Reparer
– Network/Systems Support Specialist
– Electrician
– Avionics Technician

While the new report calls for updated data analysis of the broadband workforce (existing workforce and projected needs) the 2021 data identified the top in-demand occupations in the broadband sector as follows:

  1. Telecommunications equipment installers and repairers, except line installers
  2. Telecommunications line installers and repairers
  3. Electrical power-line installers and repairers
  4. Electronics engineers, except computer
  5. Radio, cellular and tower equipment installers and repairers
  6. Helpers—installation, maintenance and repair workers

Research and conversations with nearly 40 stakeholder organizations has made clear that the country will need to grow and diversify the current broadband workforce, including by reengaging workers who have left the field, to meet the increase in broadband funding in the BEAD Program and beyond.

At present, the typical broadband worker is a prime-age (25 to 54 years old) non-Hispanic white male without a four-year college degree. Compared to the general workforce, broadband workers are more male, older, and have less formal education. The telecommunications sector is also struggling with a retiring workforce without enough new, younger workers coming in to replace them. As the Federal Communications Commission notes, “Telecommunications employees are aging and that could jeopardize the sector’s future. There are too few younger employees with sufficient experience to fill the positions within the telecom sector. Workforce turnover is an especially tricky issue for field operations.” 

Larger investments in workforce training to create widespread, well-paid jobs are also incredibly popular – including broadband specifically. According to a 2021 Gallup poll, a strong bipartisan majority (93%) of the public supports a large-scale, ambitious plan to pay people to work and provide them with the skills needed for jobs of the future. Investing in broadband and its workforce has nearly 90% support from both sides of the aisle.

TO LEARN MORE: Read the full report here.