For broadband, states urged to address network engineer shortages
State broadband offices could benefit from working with high schools, colleges and industry partners to recruit and train new broadband engineers and technicians, speakers at a conference hosted by the Telecommunication Industry Association said Wednesday.
Each state will likely require thousands of new broadband workers to complete its high-speed internet expansion plans under the Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment program, speakers at the BEAD Summit said.
With the broadband industry already facing worker shortages, it would be smart for states to start thinking about training pipelines and employment opportunities now, said Richard Zinno, vice president at the construction company MasTec.
“This is a workforce challenge that is going to persist for the next six or seven years,” Zinno said. “There’s considerable doubt in the industry, and amongst states, that the build-out projections can be met within the four-year timeline.”
In Louisiana, the state broadband office is already working to address potential worker shortages, said Tyler Thomas, the office’s deputy director.
“Our plan is that by late summer, early fall, every single one of our community and technical colleges will have some type of broadband network infrastructure class and curriculum in place,” Thomas said.
He said Louisiana will need approximately 5,000 new workers to support its broadband expansion plans and that the state wants to prioritize working with local companies that hire local people.
Figuring out how many new workers each state will need to complete its BEAD-funded internet expansion plans is tricky, said Roddy Flynn, director of Delaware’s Broadband Office.
“I’d like to issue an ask to the service providers to be really candid with your state broadband offices,” Flynn said.
While providers might be tempted to tell state broadband offices not to worry about potential worker shortages, Flynn said he would rather know early about potential challenges than face delays later.
“We can get these workforce plans going now, get folks trained,” Flynn said. “We can only do that if we have some candid information from the folks on the ground.”