State to Use $3.3 Million to Train Workforce for Broadband Telecommunications Industry

The Office of Skills Development (OSD) is investing $3.3 million to train new workers in the broadband and telecommunications industry in an effort to close the gap in the state’s digital infrastructure.

The Fiber Broadband and Telecommunications Task Force — a partnership of industry leaders, state government, and educators — has identified areas where workforce training can deliver strategic results.

“The past few months have shown us that reliable high-speed internet access is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessary way of life,” Governor Asa Hutchinson said. “As a rural state, it is even more imperative that Arkansans have the same opportunities as citizens in urban areas. Now that we are making progress in bringing broadband to every corner of the state, we need workers to build and implement the infrastructure. Today, not only do we celebrate the progress we are making to ensure that all Arkansans have access to broadband for school, work and play, but we also celebrate the creation of high-tech jobs in an industry in full growth.

The Broadband Task Force has focused on the investments needed to prepare Arkansans for high demand and well-paying jobs in the broadband and telecommunications sectors.

OSD, a division of the Arkansas Department of Commerce, has been working for the past several months to create a worker training program, identify costs, and secure funding for this project. Commerce Secretary Mike Preston said creating a skilled workforce to install new infrastructure is an important step in the process.

“We continue to make unprecedented progress in our efforts to ensure that every Arkansan has access to broadband infrastructure. Now we are ready to take on a new challenge: to develop a workforce with the skills to run the infrastructure,” said Preston.

Three community colleges have been selected to develop and host non-credit training programs for broadband and telecommunications skills. These are ASU Three Rivers, UA Cossatot and UA Community College Morrilton.

The first part of the training is a core curriculum, consisting of ten courses covering basic industry skills. Once students have acquired the essential knowledge of the broadband industry, they can choose from three specialist programs that cover specific aspects of broadband infrastructure. Each school will offer the basic program, and then each will have its own specialty: ASU Three Rivers will offer a program for telecommunications tower technicians, UA Cossatot will offer overhead lineman training, and UA Community College Morrilton will prepare underground technicians.

“In our collective efforts to make Arkansas the most connected state in the nation, we are thrilled to see this investment in training skilled workers in the broadband and telecommunications sectors,” said Steven Bandy, director General of OzarksGo, co-chair of the working group. . “These individuals will have access to new opportunities in innovative and progressive fields that will benefit not only themselves, but our entire state.”

The OSD grant covers each school’s start-up costs of just under $3 million for equipment and field labs. The remainder of the grant will cover tuition and fees for the undergraduate student body, which is expected to be around 30 people.

Schools will also identify and employ qualified instructors and market the new programs to high school students and those seeking careers in broadband and fiber.

Michael A. Bynum