Bridging the digital divide in rural America requires an investment in infrastructure, workforce
We have seen a big push in recent years to get high quality internet service to rural America. Companies have signed on to make it happen, but they face some major hurdles. Here are the obstacles they are facing and their plea to the new administration.
Closing the broadband gap in rural America requires an investment in infrastructure, but it also takes a skilled workforce to install and operate the technology. That is the message of a new letter being sent to policy makers by the Rural Broadband Association.
According to CEO Shirley Bloomfield, “When you look at what a high demand we are going to have if we are really committed to deploying broadband across the country, we are really going to look to win the race for 5G; it’s going to take a lot of skill.”
A coalition of ten telecommunications organizations sent a letter to Congress and the White House recommending working with the labor department to expand on existing apprenticeship programs and help rural businesses develop training programs.
“We are looking to keep this relatively simple at this point in time by saying, ‘Alright, you’ve got the groundwork, now go ahead and start pushing some resources into that kind of a program,’” Bloomfield states. “Whether you are giving employers some financial support for training, maintaining, educating your apprentices, whether you are using that platform to actually recruit people into the apprenticeship program.”
She says that small communities also face the challenge of holding onto young people after they are trained.
“When we do get some folks trained or we work with kids out of high school or a technical school nearby, they get lured into the urban areas,” she adds. “You train them and suddenly that opens up new jobs for them elsewhere.”
She says that it is important for communities and businesses to consider worker retention as part of their plans. She also says that workforce development can be a path to recover after the pandemic.
“We are already seeing that void of a skilled workforce, that married with the fact that we have so many unemployed Americans right now--what a perfect time to be thinking about training folks to take these jobs in the future that are frankly terrific jobs,” she notes.
In addition to existing jobs, the industry estimates broadband and the 5G rollout will create 3 million new jobs across America.