Lack of adequate workforce expected to hamper broadband industry, panel says: Broadband Breakfast

LAS VEGAS, Oct. 4, 2022 — The U.S. broadband industry will soon face a severe labor shortage, a panel at the WISPAPALOOZA conference said Monday.

As the federal government rolls out unprecedented monetary investments in broadband from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program and other sources, some experts are warning that the he industry ignores the lack of another crucial resource: labour.

“Everyone says, ‘Oh, there’s going to be a labor shortage,’ but no one is really focusing on that,” said Elizabeth BowlesCEO of internet service provider Aristotle Unified Communications.

Additionally, many workers in the nation’s broadband workforce will be highly inexperienced, said Matt LarsenCEO of Internet service provider Vistabeam.

The Infrastructure, Investment and Employment Act, the big infrastructure funding program, includes funds for manpower training. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo previously highlighted the need for manpower training funds for broadband infrastructure.

Some governments are also working to expand the broadband workforce. In March, The Ohio State University announced a new program in broadband technologies. That same month, the Federal Interagency Group on the Telecommunications Workforce hosted its first webcast, where apprenticeship programs were discussed as crucial to the future of broadband expansion.

Larsen told Broadband Breakfast, however, that union-friendly hiring restrictions would likely lead to further labor-related delays. Regulators and industry players must balance “the worker’s well-being and ability to earn with the company’s need to achieve predictable and manageable goals,” he said.

Larsen predicted better workforce outcomes in areas where companies “have the flexibility to hire the people best suited for the job.”

How Vistabeam recruits and trains its team

Vistabeam “tries to build [its] own army,” Larsen told Broadband Breakfast. He said his company hires hard-working young people who demonstrate an ability to learn: “We’re really looking for know-it-alls as opposed to know-it-alls.”

In addition to offering a competitive salary and good benefits, Larsen said Vistabeam attracts candidates by highlighting the fun side of working in the broadband industry and learning about technology. Employees undergo a comprehensive and continuous training process to ensure safety, he added.

At a Pew Charitable Trusts event last summer, Rachel Stephensdirector of workforce development and economic policy for the National Governors Association, advocated for collaboration among a host of partners, including federal government, state governments, private industry and institutions of teaching.

Michael A. Bynum