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NTIA Emphasizes Workforce Development, Readiness Ahead of BEAD

NTIA encouraged industry stakeholders Wednesday to partner with state broadband officials to understand their states’ workforce landscape and current needs of employers, as they draft plans for the broadband, equity, access and deployment program. The agency is also “in the final stages” of awarding states and territories their initial BEAD planning grants, said NTIA Special Policy Adviser Lucy Moore, during a Fiber Broadband Association webinar Wednesday.

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Industry should “stay in close touch” with state broadband offices and be involved in the planning of broadband programs, Moore said. She encouraged industry to share examples of workforce development or training programs: “We've been collecting these to share with eligible entities and other industry stakeholders."

NTIA encouraged entities to “think beyond the current landscape of the telecommunications workforce” through outreach and public campaigns to identify potential workers. That includes working with community-based organizations, trade organizations that work with women and minority communities, and reaching out to high schools to teach students about non-college pathways, Moore said: “We really think that there are ways to do this that work in a variety of different settings.”

It “appears that if you don't have the workforce, you're [not] going to be very efficient on your deployment” before funding is available, said FBA CEO Gary Bolton. States “really only have a year to get the workforce in place” before BEAD funding is allocated, Bolton said, noting at least 200,000 technicians are needed just to deploy fiber through the BEAD program. Workforce development is “of critical importance to NTIA and to the success of our programs,” Moore said, noting workforce development and job training are eligible uses of BEAD program funding.

Moore highlighted an October workforce planning guide the agency released to assist states in developing their plans (see 2210190062). The guide offered recommendations and provided information about employment laws, developing a skilled and diverse workforce, contracting and subcontracting. “The requirements will likely vary by state and eligible entities should take note of their own state or territorial workforce clause,” Moore said: It's “critical to our success that each subgrantee certifies that it will use an appropriately skilled and credentialed workforce that can complete the activities of the program.”

How prepared states are on workforce development varies because “they’re going to face different challenges,” Moore said. It's “something that we hear all the time from our state broadband leaders' network and from talking to state broadband offices,” she said, and “I think they could really use support from folks who are on the ground in their states” who are running training programs or from employers to understand their needs: “Preparing for the workforce needs is one of the things that we recommend thinking about as early as possible.”

If we're going to be successful in having this infrastructure deployed across the nation and really make an impact for generations to come, we got to have the boots on the ground to make this happen,” Bolton said. NTIA left its notifice of funding opportunity “pretty broad” on how states and territories may use their BEAD funding for workforce training, Moore said, so they may be able to spend money on stipends to assist people going through an apprenticeship if their plans explain how that supports workforce development: “That's something that we'll look at, and I think I don't see why not.”