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Thune, Colleagues Introduce Bill to Address the Telecommunications Workforce Shortage

Washington — 

U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, today introduced the Telecommunications Skilled Workforce Act, legislation 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.

“This legislation builds off the work I’ve already done to make 5G a reality in South Dakota by getting skilled workers to industries that will deliver 5G services and technology across the country, particularly in rural areas of my state,” said Thune. “South Dakota telephone cooperatives and other smaller companies are making investments in connecting more folks in our state to broadband services, and this legislation helps put the skilled people in the right place to deliver the services. I’m grateful for the work of schools like Southeast Technical Institute and companies like VIKOR Teleconstruction in South Dakota that have provided us with the critical input that was necessary to put this legislation together.”

“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 the 21st century economy.”

“As we continue to work towards providing high-speed broadband connectivity to all parts of the country, including the deployment of 5G mobile broadband, there is a growing demand for a skilled workforce that would support this effort and add a substantial number of well-paying jobs to the economy,” said Moran. “The Telecommunications Skilled Workforce Act would provide guidance to states on how to utilize available federal resources to promote recruitment to training programs while also creating a working group to submit recommendations to Congress on how to support, improve and expand such programs. As the chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee with jurisdiction over workforce development, I will continue to support modernized training programs that help produce the highly-skilled workforce needed in a globalized economy.”

“Ensuring that communities across Michigan will have reliable access to 5G telecommunications will be critical to helping our students and small businesses retain a competitive edge,” said Peters. “This bipartisan legislation would help develop the skilled workforce that will install the infrastructure needed to usher in the next generation of telecommunications.”

“As our country moves quickly toward full-scale deployment of 5G, addressing the needs of our nation’s telecommunications workforce is a critical step to realizing the promise of this technology,” said Wicker. “Substantial skill and labor will be required to build out and maintain next-generation broadband networks. This legislation would identify the necessary resources to improve 5G workforce readiness. I thank Senator Thune for his work on this issue.”

The Telecommunications Skilled Workforce Act 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, 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.

Strong stakeholder support for the Telecommunications Skilled Workforce Act:

“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 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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