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NATE Welcomes Telecom Workforce Bill

Skilled workforce legislation aims to address worker shortage

NATE is encouraged by the reintroduction of a bill in the Senate to promote development of a skilled telecom workforce.

NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association commented on introduction of the Telecommunications Skilled Workforce Act by Senators John Thune, Jon Tester, Roger Wicker, Gary Peters and Jerry Moran.

Those three Republicans and two Democrats are members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation; they say they want to address a shortage of trained workers needed to fill jobs in the telecommunications industry. The bill was introduced a year ago but didn’t get out of committee.

[Read: Telecom and Workforce Development: Why It Matters to Broadcast]

Though proponents of the bill speak mostly about the need to build out 5G and broadband, the bill likely would have some benefits as well to the broadcast industry, which often draws on the same telecom workforce for tower work.

NATE President/CEO Todd Schlekeway said in a statement, “It is great to see this bipartisan group of U.S. senators come out of the gate strong in the 117th Congress through the introduction of this legislation.”

The organization says that if passed the law would be a springboard to greater collaboration between the federal government, state workforce boards, the higher education sector and industry “to accomplish the ultimate goal of developing a future pipeline of skilled technicians that the country sorely needs to meet its ambitious broadband and 5G deployment objectives.”

The bill would set up an interagency group led by the Federal Communications Commission that would work with the Labor Department and other government entities to push this issue. It would also require the FCC to publish guidance on how states can address the workforce shortage by using federal resources. And it would direct the Government Accountability Office to do a study into how many skilled workers will be required to maintain broadband infrastructure in rural areas as well as build the country’s 5G wireless infrastructure.

Schlekeway told Radio World that NATE “certainly feels like there is growing momentum behind support for telecom workforce provisions in a broadband infrastructure package that could emerge from Congress.” Last year, he said, was a difficult one for standalone legislation due to COVID-19 and the elections.

NATE formerly was called the National Association of Tower Erectors, but its name and mission have evolved. The nonprofit trade organization includes more than 1,000 member companies that construct, service and maintain hundreds of thousands of communications towers for broadcast and wireless, as well as distributed antenna systems, small cell networks and broadband.