Bateman: Broadband and workforce are two sides of the same coin

Throughout America, a truly historic investment is being made to expand access to high-speed internet. No longer a luxury, access to reliable broadband is an essential utility and closing the digital divide in Louisiana is the goal of ConnectLA. The state’s two-year colleges are stepping-up and leaning in to prepare the skilled telecommunications workforce required to realize the potential of federal and state grants and support the future of broadband.

Community and technical colleges in Louisiana have long been at the forefront of workforce training and they are delivering programs aimed at accelerating the deployment of fiber optic infrastructure. The needs of the telecommunications industry are diverse; to build out broadband, they need fiber optic technicians, tower climbers, horizontal drilling specialists, heavy equipment operators, and more. 

Bossier Parish Community College has begun to offer a fiber optic technician program which includes basic and specialist certifications. The program is endorsed by the Fiber Optic Association and is designed to quickly scale fiber technician education, fill the existing fiber skills gap, and accelerate fiber deployments across Louisiana. Sister colleges within the LCTCS are delivering training in other critical need areas and colleges are coordinating with one another to avoid unnecessary duplication. 

Vice President Kamala Harris visited Louisiana on March 21; it was an honor for me to represent the Louisiana Community and Technical College System and to speak with the Vice President and with Governor John Bel Edwards about the ways our colleges are preparing the workforce for broadband expansion. The key to realizing the potential of these historic investments lies in our ability to create the skilled workforce that will build and maintain the expanded infrastructure. The work underway in Louisiana may very well be a model replicated across the country. 

Dr. Rick Bateman is chancellor of Bossier Parish Community College

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