America Achieve’s Broadband Initiative
America Achieves is a national non-profit organization that incubates, scales, and spins off non-profit initiatives and organizations; advises and shapes large-scale philanthropy and public policy; and helps to drive improvements at scale in education and skill development. As the COVID-19 pandemic began, the organization initiated a back-to-work effort focused on inclusive economic growth, a good jobs economy, and economic mobility. Since the summer of 2020, America Achieves has focused on shaping federal policy and funding in large-scale economic recovery packages to address near-term and long-term economic and educational challenges and opportunities.
A major initiative of America Achieve is focusing on high-speed internet access for all–broadband equity, access and deployment to create and expand a diverse broadband workforce with good jobs and career pathways. In June 2022, America Achieves produced a report: Creating and Expanding a Diverse Broadband Workforce with Good Jobs and Career Pathways: Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment – known as BEAD) in partnership with Rural Innovation Strategies Inc. The report examines the need for the development of a robust and diverse workforce with the skills to take on good jobs across the broadband industry. The report outlines how states and territories can use new federal investments (and other dollars) to meet that important, time-sensitive goal, among others. The report 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. The report is supported by Schmidt Futures.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, signed into law in 2021, 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). In 2022, the NTIA issued a Notice of Funding Opportunity for the BEAD program that workforce development as a critical component of state plans and applications for funding.
The 2022 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 that other key stakeholders (e.g., employers, federal agencies, higher education institutions, training providers, intermediaries, and labor organizations) can play a critical role to develop the workforce necessary to expand broadband to all.
The report compiles and builds on best practices in the U.S. in both broadband expansion and workforce development, with examples from Ohio, Vermont, and others, as well as sectoral training evidence from Harvard and more.
Six categories of steps states and territories should consider to help ensure they have the broadband workforce they need are highlighted in the report. They include:
- 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
- Recruit and grow a skilled diverse broadband workforce.
Employers are critical to creating a broadband workforce development ecosystem that benefits employers, workers, and residents in need of broadband alike. Key ways employers contribute 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
- Providing in-kind participation of senior leaders.
The broadband workforce analysis by EMSI Burning Glass details national-level broadband workforce occupations and their credential requirements, as well as pathways into those high-demand occupations in the broadband sector. The report recommends the development of career pathways to help with recruitment and as a tool for workers in the sectors. The 2021 data identified the top in-demand occupations in the broadband sector: telecommunications equipment installers and repairers, except line installers; telecommunications line installers and repairers; electrical power-line installers and repairers; electronics engineers, except computer; Radio, cellular and tower equipment installers and repairers; helpers—installation, maintenance and repair workers
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. New investments are needed to meet upcoming shortages and diversify the workforce.
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