Feb 15, 2023
Labor shortage could slow Maine’s broadband expansion
A new report says Maine could soon face a shortage of as many as 4,400 workers in the industry, depending on how fast and extensively broadband access is expanded.
A state agency has been busy getting funds to expand broadband internet access in Maine, but can’t find enough workers to string the wires, run the cables and operate the network.
A new report commissioned by the Maine Connectivity Authority said the state is already expected to have a shortfall of 3,240 workers in broadband jobs, even without taking into account the goal of broadening broadband to every part of Maine.
To meet the expansion goals, the report said, Maine will likely face an average annual shortage of 3,624 to 4,431 workers.
Maine has successfully obtained hundreds of millions of dollars in federal money and other sources for broadband expansion. But the report, authored by consultant Camoin Associates of Saratoga Springs, New York, said there’s been little attention paid to finding the workers to build and maintain the expanded network. A chronic labor shortage in the state doesn’t help matters.
“We knew that workforce was one of the major challenges we would have to overcome,” said Kwame Yeboah, the workforce development manager for the Maine Connectivity Authority.
To meet that challenge will require many types of efforts, beginning with education, Yeboah said.
“Nobody in school says, ‘I want to become a broadband engineer,’ ” he said, and schools have done a poor job putting together programs that might help lead students to a promising career path.
He said some community colleges in the state are developing training and certification programs for students that would prepare them to work in the broadband industry. But more needs to be done to make people aware of those efforts. For instance, Yeboah said, the field should be touted to New Mainers – immigrants who move to the state – as a career path, rather than a short-term job to make money while they get settled in Maine.
Brian Allenby, communications director for the authority, said efforts to attract workers should play up the long-term potential of jobs related to the broadband industry. There will be a big demand for construction workers over the next three or four years as the network is built out, he said, and the demand for workers will continue either on the network itself or in fields such as electric utilities.
Like Yeboah, the report said Maine needs more training and education for workers in the broadband industry and a better public understanding of its career pathways. Better communication will be key, the report said.
“There is an urgent need for increased awareness of broadband,” it said. “There is a lot of competition between initiatives in other industries for workers, resources and attention.”
In general, the public doesn’t know a lot about fiber optics and the telecommunications industry, the jobs they provide and the skills needed, the report said. Better education could lead to greater interest in the industry, helping to ease the urgent demand for workers.