PA plans to throw millions of dollars at broadband infrastructure but who will build it?

25 August 2023- The Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry (L&I) today announced nearly $800,000 in grant funding to registered pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs that will help train more workers with the skills needed to build broadband infrastructure and extend access to reliable, affordable high-speed internet across the Commonwealth.

According to the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority’s (PBDA) master plan, at least 2.6 million Pennsylvanians living in 1.3 million households do not have access to internet or the skills to use technology. With federal funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), each awarded program will build diverse talent and expand job opportunities in broadband-related occupations for underrepresented populations — including women, minorities, individuals with disabilities, and veterans.

“All Pennsylvanians deserve reliable access to high-speed internet, and there’s a lot of work to do — especially in rural communities where broadband infrastructure is particularly limited – to make this vision a reality,” said L&I Secretary Nancy A. Walker. “We know we need more workers in these critical, good-paying jobs and on behalf of L&I, I applaud these programs’ commitment to closing the digital divide by providing access to alternative pathways to competitive, family-sustaining jobs in the broadband industry.”

As Governor Josh Shapiro has highlighted in recent weeks, Pennsylvania has an opportunity to take advantage of the Biden Administration’s $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) funding to help complete major infrastructure projects, including broadband expansion.

To address significant barriers to reliable high-speed internet, L&I designed the PAsmart Supporting Broadband Infrastructure through Registered Apprenticeships and Pre-Apprenticeships initiative in anticipation of increased employment opportunities for infrastructure projects related to broadband expansion. Under the IIJA, Pennsylvania is expected to receive at least $100 million in funding to help provide broadband coverage across the state.

Similarly, after major wins in the 2023-24 budget, L&I plans to make significant investments in workforce development, including a $23.5 million investment in job training and vo-tech programs; a $6 million investment in apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programming; and $3.5 million in funding for L&I’s Schools-to-Work Program to develop and expand career pathways for underserved populations via partnerships between schools, employers, organizations, and the Commonwealth.

The following pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs will receive grant funding through March 2026. 

Construction Apprentice Preparatory Program (CAPP) – $200,000

CAPP will expand its Building and Construction Trades Registered Pre-Apprenticeship Program with specific emphasis on the following occupations: telecommunications technician, line erector (power-line distribution erector), line installer-repairer, telecommunicator, line maintainer, telecom installer technician, and network engineer. This project will train as many as 30 students in Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia counties. CAPP also plans to expand its services to individuals with disabilities, individuals who speak English as a second language, and individuals experiencing multiple barriers to employment.

IBEW Local 126 – $200,000

IBEW Local 126, its employer partners, and its apprenticeship and training arm – the Northeastern Apprenticeship and Training (NEAT) – will work to expand the NEAT Lineworker registered apprenticeship program and serve 35 additional apprentices throughout southwestern, south central, and southeastern Pennsylvania. 

IBEW Local 1319 – $200,000

IBEW Local 1319, its employer partners, and its apprenticeship and training arm – the Northeastern Apprenticeship and Training (NEAT) – will work to expand the NEAT Lineworker registered apprenticeship program and serve 18 to 20 additional apprentices throughout northwestern, north central, and northeastern Pennsylvania. 

NuPaths, LLC – $200,000

NuPaths will use grant funding to expand its current Network Technician pre-apprenticeship program by training 20 teenagers and young adults for jobs in broadband and engineering throughout Pennsylvania. Additionally, participants will receive career services support, including opportunities to enroll in a paid apprenticeship program and earn up to eight college credits through Harrisburg University upon completion of the program.