Addressing Montana’s Telecommunications Workforce Shortage is Goal of Tester-backed Bill



The FCC estimates that it will need to fill another 20,000 tower climber job openings to complete its 5G building project, nearly doubling the size of its current workforce


(U.S. Senate) —U.S. Senator Jon Tester and a bipartisan group of Senators from the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, introduced the Telecommunications Skilled Workforce Act to address the shortage of trained workers that are necessary to fill next-generation jobs in the telecommunications industry in communities throughout the country—particularly rural America.


“Workforce shortages are one of the biggest challenges to improving broadband and wireless connectivity in rural America, period,” said Tester. “This legislation will help folks from rural America get the skills they need to take good-paying jobs—often times right in their hometowns—while making sure our frontier communities can thrive in our 21st century economy.”


The Telecommunications Skilled Workforce Act, which is also sponsored by U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), would address the shortage of trained workers necessary to fill next-generation jobs by:


  • Establishing a Department of Labor (DOL)-led interagency working group that, in consultation with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and other federal and non-federal stakeholders, including representatives from rural and Tribal organizations, would be tasked with developing recommendations to address the workforce needs of the telecommunications industry.
  • Requiring the DOL, in consultation with the FCC, to issue guidance on how states can address the workforce shortage in the telecommunications industry by identifying all of the federal resources currently available to them that can be used for workforce development efforts.
  • Directing the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study to determine the specific number of skilled telecommunications workers that will be required to build and maintain broadband infrastructure in rural areas, and the 5G wireless infrastructure needed to support 5G wireless technology.


Following reports that the FCC does not have the skilled workforce necessary to build 5G broadband infrastructure across the country, U.S. Senator Jon Tester recently grilled Commissioner Brenden Carr on the agency’s plan to address shortages and ensure that rural America doesn’t get the short end of the stick as the new technology rolls out.


The FCC estimates that it will need to fill another 20,000 tower climber job openings to complete its 5G building project, nearly doubling the size of its current workforce. In fact, the first few years of 5G broadband deployment projects will create a projected 50,000 new construction jobs each year.


Tester has been critical of the FCC’s strategies to bring reliable broadband coverage to rural America. In last month’s Senate Commerce Committee hearing, he blasted FCC officials on their previous failure to bring 4G technology to rural communities and demanded a solution for workforce shortages that threaten the agency’s new 5G promises to rural America.


As a working farmer in an area with spotty cell service, Tester has led the charge for bringing reliable wireless service to rural America. Earlier this month, he sent a bipartisan letter to the FCC demanding they focus their efforts on providing reliable broadband to rural communities. He also backed the bipartisan Broadband DATA Act last year to force broadband providers to fix inaccurate coverage maps and help individuals and other entities challenge coverage maps in a non-burdensome way.


“NATE applauds the leadership of Senators Thune, Tester, Moran, Peters, and Wicker on introducing the Telecommunications Skilled Workforce Act in the United States Senate,” said Todd Schlekeway, Executive Director of the National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE). “NATE Chairman Jimmy Miller recently testified before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on the workforce development challenges currently confronting the industry. NATE believes this bipartisan legislation is a strong response to the issues that were highlighted at the hearing and can serve as a springboard to fostering greater collaboration between the federal government and state workforce boards, identifying resources available to support higher education programs, attracting transitioning military veterans and expanding TIRAP apprenticeship participation. All of these provisions outlined in the legislation can accomplish the ultimate goal of identifying, recruiting and training a future pipeline of skilled technicians that is necessary in order to accomplish the country’s ambitious 5G and rural broadband deployment objectives.”


“Workforce development is a concern nationwide, and the problem is exacerbated in rural America,” said Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association. “A continued focus on developing apprenticeship programs to train homegrown talent for innovative careers in rural America must be a top priority if our small towns are to attract and retain that talent and thrive in the future. NTCA thanks Sens. Thune, Tester, Moran, Peters, and Wicker for introducing this thoughtful legislation seeking new approaches to solving our nation’s digital workforce needs.”


“The Telecommunications Skilled Workforce Act is the right initiative at the right time because it will spur urgently needed action to develop a trained workforce the U.S. needs to win the global race to 5G,” said Jonathan Adelstein, President and CEO of the Wireless Infrastructure Association. “It will coordinate and focus federal attention on wireless workforce development so that the entire economy can benefit from the three million jobs and $500 billion in growth 5G will create. We are especially thrilled with the bill’s focus on creating apprenticeships through the Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program, which Sens. Thune, Tester, Moran, Peters, and Wicker have singled out for its ability to build the skilled workforce demanded by the growing complexity of wireless technology.”


“CTIA supports the efforts of Senators Thune, Tester, Moran, Peters, and Wicker to ensure we have the skilled workforce necessary to deploy next-generation networks, which will enable the U.S. to secure its global leadership in the emerging 5G economy,” said Kelly Cole, senior vice president of CTIA.

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