Representatives of the Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA) joined Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted on Sept. 8 at the Tri-County Career Center in Nelsonville, Ohio, as he launched a new fiber-optic technician training program and inaugurated a broader effort to strengthen Ohio’s broadband and 5G wireless communications workforce.
A WIA executive made remarks in support of Lt. Gov. Husted and the Ohio Office of Workforce Transformation’s investment in broadband and workforce initiatives.
“On behalf of the wireless industry, I congratulate Lt. Gov. Husted and his entire administration,” said WIA’s executive vice president, Tim House, during a speech at the Tri-County Career Center. “I commend your vision and these laudable goals. At its core, this investment signals a transformation. For 5G is not just the next generation of speed, it is a catalyst for change and economic development some have characterized as on par with electricity and the printing press.”
The state of Ohio provided $30,000 to purchase equipment and tools needed to launch a fiber-optic technician training program. As much as $10,000 of the $30,000 grant may be used for tuition assistance to reduce the cost for prospective students, the workforce transformation office disclosed.
5G deployment has the potential to contribute $1.7 trillion to the U.S. economy and create 4.6 million jobs over the next decade, according to WIA, which said that the current workforce needs to be trained and developed with the technical skills needed to deploy next generation broadband networks for the United States to win the global race to 5G.
Programs such as fiber-optic technician training are critical to closing this skills gap and ensuring that Ohioans benefit from the jobs and innovation that 5G deployment will create, WIA said.
“In Ohio and across the nation there is a sense of urgency to expand high-speed internet, but you can’t expand the infrastructure without a workforce to build it,” said Husted who serves the director workforce transformation office. “One way we are building that workforce in Ohio is through the innovative fiber-optic technician program at Tri-County Career Center, where you can earn the skills and certificates in as little as six and a half weeks and start a new career that pays well and provides long-term stability.”
The Strengthening Ohio’s Broadband & 5G Workforce strategy underscores the public and private investments being made in broadband and 5G at the state and federal levels, which in turn are expected to create tens of thousands of jobs in Ohio over the next decade, according workforce transformation office. In an effort to ensure that Ohio has a skilled and prepared workforce to fill these kinds of jobs, the strategy outlines a plan for increasing broadband industry career awareness and creating more training and education programs in the state.
This strategy addresses three key issues, the first of which is to increase broadband industry career awareness by exposing middle school and high school students to the industry through curriculum and internships. The second is to develop and support more education and training programs to educate and train Ohioans. The third key issue is to capitalize on state and federal funding programs, such as TechCred and WIOA, to help finance the education and training that will bring to market the talent supply needed for the broadband and 5G industry in Ohio.
“The report published by the state suggests that the DeWine-Husted Administration proposed significant investments in broadband expansion — approximately $500 million between state and federal dollars, which will create 1,250 direct construction jobs that will need to be filled, compounding the current labor shortage,” said Dr. Rikin Thakker, WIA’s chief technology officer. “The deployment of 5G in Ohio is estimated to create 32,000 jobs solely in network infrastructure.”
Thakker told eDigest that WIA is working with many local and state leaders to bring increased connectivity and career opportunities to communities across the country.
“I can’t speak too specifically to those plans as they’re in various stages of development, but I can tell you that our industry has experienced a notable increase of interest from elected officials about how their state can directly forge pipelines between its education systems and workforce,” Thakker said. “The Ohio plan does just that. We hope that states will see this as a prime opportunity to join Ohio as a leader in not only building broadband infrastructure, but also funding workforce development programs to support it.”
A national sponsor of the DOL-registered Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program (TIRAP), WIA said that is a leader in the development of telecommunications apprenticeships and workforce training crucial to the expansion deployment of 5G. Its Telecommunications Education Center (TEC) catalogs more than 30 courses developed by experts from industry and academia.
“We are closely monitoring the plans that are coming out from Ohio’s Office of Workforce Transformation and we stand ready with our TIRAP and TEC programs,” Thakker said. “WIA is looking into awarding that specific fiber-optic technician training program pre-apprenticeship status because it aligns with the TIRAP program. Our partnerships with local colleges and trade schools are growing, and we always keep an eye out for great opportunities to help deploy 5G in every community across the United States.”
According to a Strengthening Ohio’s Broadband & 5G Workforce strategic plan, published by the Ohio workforce transformation office, a recurring theme leading to the development of Ohio’s 5G workforce strategy is the is a lack of awareness of the viable career paths offered within the broadband industry.
The plan cites a national report from the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC), a committee formed by the FCC, which specifies that “without a clear identity of the broadband industry, the skills gap will likely only grow. Educational institutions lack awareness of employer needs, the general public is unaware of job opportunities in the broadband industry and workers within the industry often do not realize that there are opportunities for advancement.”
According to the strategic plan, “employers lose out from high turnover because employees tend to transition jobs for minimal compensation increases without realizing the possible career and salary advancement paths … and broadband infrastructure talent often move into power and electric utility subcontracting because those industries have a higher base rate of pay.”
Thakker said WIA was an active participant in Ohio’s broadband workforce analysis and continues to work with the state’s administration to explore a wide range of wireless infrastructure opportunities.
“Today, WIA’s 5G Readiness Program is a program that can be plugged in as a 10-weekend certificate program at a community college or four-year degree institution,” Thakker said. “Most of the content can be delivered online and students get to learn practical aspects of broadband and 5G through field trips to live-cell sites at the end of the program. Terra State Community College, also featured in the report, is one of the five colleges that has partnered with WIA on the Department of Labor’s Closing the Skills Gap grant. Suffice it to say, we are confident that Ohio is embracing an all-of-the-above strategy to train its future workforce.”
Thakker said that WIA fully supports increasing opportunities for 5G workforce training, but said he believes that installation is just one part of the much larger industry.
“It should go without saying that we should have more programs like this and encourage other states to follow Ohio’s lead in funding these pathways to prepare next generations for 21st century jobs,” he said.
Mike Harrington is a contributing editor.