America is poised for faster economic growth, thanks to advancements in 5G technology and the historic investment in broadband expansion included in the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Over the next decade, 5G deployment will contribute $1.7 trillion to the economy, create 4.6 million jobs, and enhance everything from how we communicate to the way farmers raise their crops.
Better yet, it can address the increased disparities across racial and gender lines that were laid bare by the pandemic. Congress and President Biden are seeking to invest in registered apprenticeships to make this possible by helping diverse and dislocated workers find lifelong careers in the telecommunications industry—and other high-growth sectors—through apprenticeships.
The Build Back Better Act currently before Congress includes $4.6 billion for expanding training and apprenticeships for in-demand industry sectors. Increasingly, skills gaps and workforce shortages are becoming a central challenge for the companies that build and maintain America’s infrastructure. Once approved by Congress, employers can tap into this new funding and leverage registered apprenticeship programs to train a diverse workforce.
Registered apprenticeships are industry-driven career pathways that meet national standards for on-the-job learning, classroom learning, and mentorship for the achievement of a portable credential from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). They are a tried-and-true method for employers to train and retain the workforce they need, with approximately 94 percent of apprenticeship graduates retaining employment after the completion of their program.
Apprenticeships allow all candidates to earn while they learn, regardless of socio-economic status. While college tuition prices have ballooned over the past two decades, apprenticeships provide financially accessible alternatives for kick-starting quality careers. According to the DOL, apprenticeship graduates earn an average annual salary of $70,000 and have a $300K+ lifetime earning advantage compared to their non-apprentice peers.
As 5G deployment accelerates and we seek to bridge the digital divide, registered apprenticeships are a practical tool Congress is expanding to help employers attract and train new, diverse talent. U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo drove this point home recently, noting, “the initiative before Congress is … about providing job training and apprenticeships so we have enough workers who can lay the fiber and do the connectivity.”
As the only organization contracted by the DOL as an intermediary to expand apprenticeship for the telecommunications industry, the Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA) knows first-hand the positive impact on safety, employee retention, and company culture that federal resources have when used to help employers adopt registered apprenticeship. Our Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program (TIRAP) has seen widespread improvements in training within our growing pool of 63 employer partners, and we are on track toward 5,500 new apprentices by February 2024.
To promote the adoption of apprenticeship programs and to increase the diversity of candidates, many programs like TIRAP are equipped with incentive funds for employers that adopt the apprenticeship model and serve under-represented populations—ensuring that more veterans, women, and people of color have access to well-paying, in-demand careers.
The most promising news of all is WIA’s support for our employer partners is also available to companies across a range of industries, and more funds than ever before are on the way, thanks to the new infrastructure package.
As 5G deployment speeds ahead and transforms the way we live and do business, employers ought to leverage the resources available to recruit and train a more diverse workforce by expanding registered apprenticeships. Everyone deserves a shot at a quality career. If more companies adopt this proven training model as the U.S. builds out broadband to close the digital divide, many more underserved Americans will have a pathway to the middle class.
Jonathan Adelstein is the president and CEO of the Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA). A former FCC Commissioner and former Administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service, Adelstein was recently appointed by Department of Labor Secretary Marty Walsh to serve on the DOL’s National Advisory Committee on Apprenticeship, due to WIA’s work helping employers adopt and expand apprenticeship programs through its Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program.