Millions of dollars are moving toward expanding access to high-speed Internet in Louisiana, driving demand for the workforce with no clear pathway to entry. But there is a local solution in the works.
Closing the digital divide has become a priority in Louisiana since the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the critical role high-speed internet plays in the state’s education systems and economy.
Using federal funds, the state launched a $180 million program last year to provide high-speed Internet access to underserved areas. In March, Acadiana welcomed Vice President Kamala Harris to Phil Platt to announce a $30 million federal grant to build fiber internet across 11 rural cities in the region.
Although major federal investments are aimed at filling this gap, the money can only go so far without an increase in the number of workers able to build and install high-speed internet infrastructure.
Urgently Needed Help
The flood of funding, along with private expansion efforts, is causing a huge surge in demand for these services and workers.
“We have a lot of work today and we just can’t keep up. We’re going to have to nearly double our workforce without dealing with any new customers,” said Nathan Carbo, who runs System Services for internet infrastructure along with his wife, Kristen Carbo.
“I needed 30 people yesterday,” he added.
It’s a similar story for LUS Fiber, particularly after the city-owned carrier took out $21 million in that $30 million federal grant earlier this year and is requesting $19 million to help the state’s $180 million GUMBO program expand into Acadiana communities. other rural.
“It’s hard to find workers who want to work at home and can do the critical thinking side of troubleshooting this technology, but you also have to be skilled enough to do the operational side of running these cables and fitting them and making sure they look nice, as well as experience customers so they can demonstrate how to use the product,” said LUS Fiber Director Ryan Meche.
“So, there are a lot of pieces.”
Local programs that meet the need for a trained workforce
But the problem presents an opportunity to invest in local communities and develop a workforce that can take advantage of the need for workers who can install and repair high-speed Internet infrastructure.
As Nathan Carbo said, “Why not invest in our local communities and create jobs locally with everything we do?”
To that end, Carbos and Meche are working with South Louisiana Community College to launch a new fiber optic installation technician program this summer to meet the needs of the area’s growing workforce and help residents develop the skills to launch their careers.
“We have now worked with the industry for just over two years to design a program that is versatile enough to produce entry-level employees in every aspect of the industry,” said Charlotte Liu, SLCC’s Director of Transportation, Distribution and Logistics.
LeLeux said the school’s new fiber optic technician program is expected to launch at SLCC’s Crawley Campus in July, with space for about 25 to 30 students to complete the 18 to 20 week course.
It will cover how to splice fiber optic cables, how to hang cables on telephone poles, how to operate installation equipment and other skills. The goal will be to cover everything from construction to laying fibers in the home, LeLeux said, “so that when they are employed by these companies, they have very little training with them.”
“This will be a win for the college, a win for the student, and a sure win for our industry partners,” she said.
Ideally, this collaboration is a path to building profitable business opportunities locally, while developing a workforce to meet the needs of the increasingly connected communities of Acadiana.
“We’re involved in time, so we can start building the (workforce) pipeline, and start seeing what works, so we have a pipeline going in many years,” Michi said.
“It will be beneficial for everyone,” he added. I think it will create higher paying jobs, better quality of life. I think everyone will win from it.”
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