Leading the Charge to Build a Diverse, Highly Skilled Broadband Workforce

Written by Patrick Halley, President & CEO, WIA

Last week, I delivered keynote remarks at a virtual event focused on the importance of increasing efforts to expand the broadband workforce. Following the virtual event, I had the privilege of attending a similarly themed event at the White House—a celebration of the Administration’s Infrastructure Talent Pipeline Challenge, which WIA and several WIA members were proud to support. All of this was on the heels of NTIA releasing a Workforce Planning Guide for Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program applicants. WIA has been focused on this issue for several years, and we are thrilled to see it now getting the full attention it deserves.

In my remarks for the Broadband Breakfast virtual panel on state-level workforce development measures, I emphasized that, when it comes to broadband deployment, “Planning to meet workforce challenges is just as important as planning what type of infrastructure to deploy.” With $42.5 billion in federal investment for broadband expansion through the BEAD Program, on top of the approximately $80 billion in annual private investment by broadband service providers, collaboration across industry and government is critical to prepare a workforce capable of meeting the broadband deployment demands of today and tomorrow.

While it doesn’t always receive the same attention as other issues, it is important to remember that states are required to include a workforce development plan in their BEAD deployment proposals. Funding can be used for Registered Apprenticeships and public-private partnerships known as “sector-based partnerships” at the state level, initiatives that bring together relevant stakeholders from government, industry, and education to develop, implement, and promote workforce training programs.

WIA currently leads one such partnership in Ohio and is prepared to help other states set up and execute their own sector-based partnerships for broadband workforce development.

To successfully deploy broadband, it is crucial for states to plan and build partnerships now to invest in building a diverse workforce, and I’m pleased to see the White House bringing attention to this need. The Infrastructure Talent Pipeline Challenge was launched by the Biden-Harris Administration in June as “a nationwide call to action for employers, unions, education and training providers, states, local governments, Tribes, territories, philanthropic organizations, and other stakeholders to make tangible commitments that support equitable workforce development focused on three critical sectors: broadband, construction, and electrification.”

Spot on. WIA is pleased to support the efforts of the Administration and the states as they grapple with broadband workforce challenges. In addition to supporting sector-based partnerships, as the National Sponsor of the Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program (TIRAP), WIA is directly aligned with the White House’s mission to support equitable workforce development for broadband. Through TIRAP, one of WIA’s primary objectives is to expand high-quality training programs while increasing the number of underrepresented populations in the broadband workforce, including women, veterans, and people of color. As the Department of Labor’s designated Industry Intermediary for telecom, WIA can offer incentive funds to employers that adopt Registered Apprenticeship and serve under-represented communities.

Through TIRAP, we offer support for fifteen occupations critical to broadband expansion, with the Broadband Technician Registered Apprenticeship Program being our most recent occupation to receive Department of Labor approval.

Connecting all Americans with high-speed broadband and continuing to upgrade existing networks is a big deal. And we need big solutions to ensure that we have the workforce in place that can get the job done today and into the future. WIA is proud to be at the forefront of collaborative workforce development efforts in the broadband industry to build a more diverse, highly skilled workforce capable of bringing broadband to every American.