Communications Workers of America Announces New and Expanded Apprenticeship and Training Initiatives, Millions in Investments to Grow and Diversify Workforce Ahead of Nationwide Broadband Expansion
Part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s Talent Pipeline Challenge, CWA has secured new partnerships with employers and industry associations, including NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association, AT&T, and more, opening doors to training opportunities and new job pathways
CWA has secured over $5 million in grants to expand fiber technician apprenticeship programs in California, laying groundwork for accelerated adoption of registered apprenticeships nationwide
Washington, D.C. — The Communications Workers of America (CWA) is announcing a slate of new industry and employer partnerships today to support technician training, as all fifty states prepare plans for subsidizing high-speed broadband buildouts under President Biden’s “Internet for All” initiative. The announcement comes as CWA headlines a White House event celebrating commitments made under the administration’s Talent Pipeline Challenge, a call to action for employers, unions, education and training providers, philanthropic organizations, and state and local leaders to make tangible commitments that support equitable workforce development within the broadband, construction, and electric vehicle sectors. The effort aims to ensure highly skilled and trained workers are ready to meet the demands of implementing the historic Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which included $65 billion in funding to reinforce and expand the nation’s broadband infrastructure.
As the country’s largest union representing telecommunications workers, CWA will advance a number of new and expanded initiatives, including statewide expansion of fiber technician apprenticeship across California led by CWA District 9. In partnership with Chabot-Las Positas Community College District in San Jose, the union was recently awarded a $5.8 million federal DOL Apprenticeship Building America grant and has additional funding opportunities in various stages of development.
Through its existing Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee (JATC) based in San Jose, Calif., which has administered apprenticeship for inside cabling technicians for more than twenty years and recently expanded to include fiber optic technicians, CWA District 9 expects to train more than 150 new technicians in anticipation of the major investments in broadband deployment by the state. The program will also recertify returning technicians who have been sidelined by job cuts and disinvestment from broadband providers.
At the event, CWA and NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association announced an innovative partnership to engage NTCA’s membership, which consists of hundreds of independent, community-based broadband providers. CWA and NTCA will work together to make apprenticeship programs accessible to NTCA member companies, and offer companies the opportunity to have employees participate in an OSHA 10 training course delivered by OSHA-authorized CWA trainers who are broadband technicians themselves. Carrying an OSHA 10 card is of great benefit to job seekers, as certain job sites require these credentials.
“In the broadband space, the work is never truly done, and employee retention and recruitment in rural markets is even more challenging than urban markets,” said NTCA Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield. “Given the significant amount of funding available for broadband deployment and the unique opportunity small, community-based providers have to help our country bridge the digital divide once and for all, NTCA is proud to join CWA and the White House to offer apprenticeship and OSHA training opportunities for broadband workers so we can ensure the 21st Century workforce of the future.”
“CWA has a long history of labor-management training partnerships, and CWA-represented broadband technicians have been critical in training and mentoring technicians of the future,” said CWA President Chris Shelton. “With significant investment from the Biden Administration and strong commitments in place from our industry partners, we can make these highly skilled and technical careers within reach for many more workers, including former technicians who are on the sidelines due to years of job cuts. It is critical not only to diversify our workforce and offer opportunities for economic mobility and job security, but to meet the nation’s urgent need for high-speed fiber broadband in every home.”
During the event, CWA member and splicing technician Jeremy Przybilla, who works for rural broadband cooperative and NTCA member CTC in Minnesota, demonstrated the care and skill required to ensure fiber cable is handled correctly, as he showed President Biden and attendees how he uses a fiber splicing tool to cut fiber strands and then test the fiber to ensure the cut was clean. A video of the demonstration can be seen here.
As a high-road employer, national provider AT&T also committed to collaborating with CWA to explore efforts to attract, train, and retain employees, with a focus on current AT&T employees and recruitment from populations who have not traditionally worked in technician positions. AT&T and CWA are working to create a pilot apprenticeship program for new employees to develop the skills required for technician positions, which would be compensated so employees can learn on the job. They are also working to provide opportunities for incumbent AT&T employees to receive training without having to leave their existing positions. Additionally, AT&T will seek to develop streamlined tuition reimbursement plans to reduce financial barriers for interested AT&T employees and scholarship opportunities for new recruits to gain relevant training.
“At AT&T, we’re proud to be the only U.S. telecommunications company with a fully union-represented non-management workforce. We deeply value our relationship with the CWA and recognize the importance of ensuring workers have the skills needed to help expand quality connectivity services throughout our communities,” said Jamie Barton, SVP of Global HR and Labor Relations at AT&T. “These programs will give workers the training they need to secure well-paying jobs bringing high-speed internet to their own neighborhoods – a continuation of AT&T’s commitment to supporting the success of our employees and the communities we serve.”
In addition to its collaboration with AT&T, CWA will also work with educational partner Stanly Community College to ensure current telecom employees have ready access to courses offered by CWA/NETT, CWA’s Education and Training resource hub, including a new course in electronics for telecommunication technologies.
Additional commitments secured by CWA include a partnership with the Fiber Broadband Association (FBA) to build on FBA’s OpTIC Path training and registered apprenticeship standards by developing an “apprenticeship toolkit” for employers and offering educational webinars. The union will also work with Corning Inc, the nation’s largest fiber manufacturer, and AT&T to provide input on the entry-level training for fiber technicians being piloted at Corning’s campus in North Carolina and explore strategies to bring former telecommunications technicians back into the broadband sector through refresher training and job placement.
About CWA: The Communications Workers of America represents working people in telecommunications, customer service, media, airlines, health care, public service and education, manufacturing, tech, and other fields.