AT&T, Lumen, Charter take up Biden’s workforce development challenge

Operators AT&T, Charter Communications and Lumen Technologies as well as the Communications Workers of America (CWA) union signed on to U.S. President Joe Biden’s Talent Pipeline Challenge, pledging to do their part to help develop a stronger labor force for critical infrastructure jobs.

In a press release, the White House noted AT&T and CWA will create a joint task force to design broadband apprenticeship programs and streamline tuition reimbursement for AT&T’s union workers. AT&T and CWA are also teaming with Corning to expand job training and develop a telecom talent pipeline. The latter partnership will include efforts to bring former broadband technicians back into the industry.

Beyond its work with AT&T, CWA said it will collaborate with NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association to help NCTA members access apprenticeship and OSHA training programs.

The release also highlighted a commitment from Lumen to invest $80 million annually to hire and train nearly 1,000 new employees to support its fiber expansion. The company is currently working to deploy its Quantum Fiber service to a total of 12 million locations. As of the end of Q3 2022, it had around 3 million fiber passings across its 16-state footprint.

Meanwhile, Charter unveiled plans to boost its tuition assistance offer for employees to $10,000 per year and expand its recruitment efforts to three additional military bases.

The announcements come as the Biden administration pushes its Internet for All agenda, which is being fueled by the $65 billion the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act allocated for broadband.

Plenty of operators have already announced massive broadband expansion plans, but concerns have grown in recent months about the industry’s ability to find the labor required to build these new networks.

Prior to the White House announcement, others had already begun taking steps to address the problem. AT&T and Corning, for instance, announced a new fiber training program designed to help upskill new workers. The Fiber Broadband Association similarly announced plans to broaden access to fiber technician training. And in September, CWA expanded its California-based fiber apprenticeship program, telling Fierce at the time it was eyeing a nationwide rollout as well.

CWA President Chris Shelton concluded in a statement “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.”