Saturday, November 6, 2021
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Congress has allocated many billions of dollars to states, territories and Tribal lands to extend the reach of broadband, including over $42 billion in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. In February 2021, a bipartisan group of senators (1) introduced the Telecommunications Skilled Workforce Act, legislation to address the shortage of trained workers necessary to fill jobs in the telecommunications industry in communities throughout the country. The bill won praise from NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association, the Wireless Infrastructure Industry, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association, USTelecom, CTIA, and the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association. The Telecommunications Skilled Workforce Act is included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The law calls for an official estimate for the number of skilled telecommunications workers needed in the U.S., a collaborative effort to craft recommendations addressing workforce needs, and guidance on how states can help.
GAO Estimate on Need for Skilled Telecommunications Workers
Congress directs the Government Accountability Office to submit a report that estimates the number of skilled telecommunications workers that will be required to build and maintain:
GAO is to submit this report to Congress in six months.
Telecommunications Interagency Working Group
Provisions in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act create, in no more than two months’ time, a new interagency working group within the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC chair, in partnership with Secretary of Labor Martin J. Walsh, will establish the group to develop recommendations to address the workforce needs of the telecommunications industry, including workforce safety. The working group will be made up of representatives from the Department of Education, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the FCC, a registered apprenticeship program in construction or maintenance, a telecommunications industry association, an Indian Tribe or Tribal organization, a rural telecommunications carrier, a telecommunications contractor firm, an institution of higher education, a public interest advocate for tower climber safety, the Directorate of Construction of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and a representative of a labor organization representing the telecommunications workforce. The FCC and Department of Labor can staff the working group.
The working group will identify:
- Federal laws, regulations, guidance, policies, or practices, or any budgetary constraints, that could be amended to strengthen the ability of institutions of higher education or for-profit businesses to establish, adopt, or expand programs intended to address the workforce needs of the telecommunications industry, including the workforce needed to build and maintain the 5G wireless infrastructure necessary to support 5G wireless technology;
- Potential policies and programs that could encourage and improve coordination among Federal agencies, between Federal agencies and States, and among States, on telecommunications workforce needs;
- Ways in which existing Federal programs, including programs that help facilitate the employment of veterans and military personnel transitioning into civilian life, could be leveraged to help address the workforce needs of the telecommunications industry;
- Ways to improve recruitment in workforce development programs in the telecommunications industry;
- Federal incentives that could be provided to institutions of higher education, for-profit businesses, State workforce development boards, or other relevant stakeholders to establish or adopt new programs, expand current programs, or partner with registered apprenticeship programs, to address the workforce needs of the telecommunications industry, including such needs in rural areas;
- Ways to improve the safety of telecommunications workers, including tower climbers; and
- Ways that trends in wages, benefits, and working conditions in the telecommunications industry impact recruitment of employees in the sector.
Within one year, the working group will submit a report to Congress with its recommendations if a majority of the group’s members support the report. The working group will be disbanded after the report is submitted.
States and the Telecommunications Industry Workforce
Within one year, the Secretary of Labor, working with the FCC chair, will issue guidance on how states can address the workforce needs and safety of the telecommunications industry, including how a state workforce development board can:
- utilize Federal resources available to states to meet the workforce needs of the telecommunications industry,
- promote and improve recruitment in workforce development programs in the telecommunications industry, and
- ensure the safety of the telecommunications workforce, including tower climbers.
- Senators John Thune (R-SD), Jon Tester (D-MT), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Gary Peters (D-MI), and Jerry Moran (R-KS), all of whom serve on the Senate Commerce Committee.
The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy – rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity – has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.
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