State to use $3.3 million to train broadband, telecom industry workforce

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 1,538 views 

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

The Fiber Broadband and Telecommunications Working Group – a partnership of industry leaders, state government, and educators – has identified areas where workforce training can produce strategic results.

“The past several months have shown us that reliable high-speed internet is no longer a luxury, it is a necessary way of life,” said Gov. Asa Hutchinson. “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 strides to bring broadband to every corner of the state, we need workers to build and implement the infrastructure. Today, we not only celebrate the progress we are making to ensure all Arkansans have access to broadband for school, work, and leisure, but we celebrate the creation of high-tech jobs in a growing sector.”

The broadband working group focus has been on making investments necessary to prepare Arkansans for high demand, high wage jobs in the broadband and telecom industries.

OSD, a division of the Arkansas Department of Commerce, has been working over the past few months to create curriculum for worker training, identify costs, and secure funding for this project. Secretary of Commerce 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 up to a new challenge – developing a workforce with the necessary skills to get the infrastructure up and running,” Preston said.

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

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

“In our collective efforts to make Arkansas the most connected state in the country, we are delighted to see this investment in training skilled workers in the broadband and telecommunications industries,” said OzarksGo General Manager Steven Bandy, the 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 startup costs for each school of just under $3 million for equipment and field labs. The remainder of the grant will cover the tuition and fees for the first round of students, which is expected to be around 30 individuals.

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