Since the COVID-19 outbreak brought attention to the critical role high-speed internet plays in Louisiana’s education and economic systems, bridging the digital gap has become a top concern for the state.
Companies are looking for new employees due to the expansion of broadband
Although significant federal investments are being made to close the gap, the cash will only go so far unless the number of personnel capable of developing and installing high-speed internet infrastructure increases.
Last year, the state began a $180 million initiative with federal monies to bring high-speed internet to neglected areas. Vice President Kamala Harris visited the Acadiana area in March to announce a new $30 million federal funding to extend fiber internet across 11 rural villages in the area.
“We have so much work today that we can’t keep up. We’d almost have to double our workforce without taking on any new clients,” said Nathan Carbo, who runs internet infrastructure company System Services alongside his wife Kristin Carbo.
“It’s hard finding the workers that want to work in the house and that can do the critical thinking side of troubleshooting this technology, but also be skilled enough to do the operational side of running those cables, dressing it in and making sure it looks nice, plus have that customer experience so that they can articulate how to use the product,” LUS Fiber Director Ryan Meche said.
It’s a similar story for LUS Fiber, particularly after the city-owned telecom was awarded $21 million of that $30 million federal grant earlier this year and is asking for a $19 million piece of the state’s $180 million GUMBO program to expand in other rural Acadiana communities.
“So, there are a lot of pieces.”
But the issue is presenting an opportunity to invest in local communities and to develop a workforce that can capitalize on the need for workers who can install and repair high-speed internet infrastructure.
“Why don’t we invest in our local communities and create jobs locally with all that we’re doing?,” Nathan Carbo said. To that end, both the Carbos and Meche are working with South Louisiana Community College to launch a new fiber-optic install technician program this summer to meet the expanding workforce needs of the region and help residents develop skills to launch their careers.
“We’ve been working with the industry now for just a little over two years to design a program that is versatile enough to produce entry level employees into each aspect of this industry,” SLCC’s Director of Transportation, Distribution, & Logistics Charlotte LeLeux said.
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