Can Congress fill the broadband labor pool?

FIBER CONNECT, ORLANDO, FL — This year American employers were anticipated to need an additional 500,000 positions across all construction industries on top of normal hiring levels. Other estimates show the U.S. will separately need as many as 4.6 million manufacturing jobs filled by 2028.

To make matters worse, it's probable those numbers will soar even higher when $42.5 billion in Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) money starts to reach the market.

Labor and materials are the main obstacles to the broadband funding rollout, Zachary Perconti, director of government affairs at Power and Communication Contractors Association (PCCA), told a panel at this week’s Fiber Connect 2023. And the federal government inevitably will have a hand in whether the broadband industry can overcome those "twin bottlenecks."

“Keep in mind for this rollout, we've just required many of these materials to be produced domestically. There's tremendous demand for entry-level positions across all of the infrastructure market,” he added, referring to the Biden-Harris Administration’s Buy America initiative.

Advocating for immigration reform in federal legislation is “one possible solution" PCCA is pursuing to help overcome the workforce shortage.


The U.S. now has a 3.5% unemployment rate, with labor participation almost as high as it was before the COVID pandemic. In some states like Nebraska, the unemployment rate is less than 2%. Meanwhile, more and more jobs keep opening up.

“The magnitude of the need is such that we do not have enough bodies, and we're not going to have enough bodies over the course of the BEAD rollout to accomplish this,” Perconti said, adding “there are people in other countries that have a number of the skills that we can bring in to support the workforce now.”

PCCA is in favor of reforming the H-2 visa standards to allow for longer term entrance to the country for temporary construction workers, as “the need for skilled broadband laborers is going to be something we all know is going to last much longer than the next few years.”

Another avenue might be found through several bills up for reauthorization in Congress, including the Higher Education Act and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. “These are big bills that Congress could potentially put millions or even over a billion dollars into supporting technical education programs, and providing grants for associations like PCCA, FBA and community colleges to develop training programs that they're working on,” said Perconti.

PCCA is also working with Congress on bills like the Jobs Act or the Pell Act, two bills that would accomplish that goal of extending eligibility for government-funded training and other short-term credential programs.

“Of course, Congress doesn't move fast on anything. They don't move fast on immigration, either. We haven't had major action taken on that in decades. But the winds are blowing in the right direction. And we think we're confident that we can get at least something done to help us out on that issue,” said Perconti.