Thousands of additional workers will be needed to build out infrastructure associated with tens of billions of dollars in funding from eight recent government broadband infrastructure deployment programs, the Federal government’s chief watchdog agency said.

“Our analysis found that thousands more skilled workers will be needed to deploy broadband and 5G funded by recent federal programs,” the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a Dec. 15 report. “If this work is spread over 10 years, at its peak, the funding would support about 23,000 additional workers.”

The 21-page report found that industry stakeholders expressed concerns about the broadband workforce shortage in three key areas:

  • The sufficiency of workers available in rural areas;
  • The extent of competition from other industries for occupations necessary to deploy broadband infrastructure; and
  • The adequacy of the general supply of new entrants into broadband deployment-related occupations.

GAO found that the pace at which these programs provide funding will impact the annual number of additional workers needed.

For example, if funding is provided over a 10-year span, the report estimated that 23,000 additional workers could be supported by the peak year of funding in 2023, declining to about 9,000 workers in 2031 because funds for some programs must be expended before 2032.

The shorter the timeframe, the more workers will be needed per year.

Assuming a five-year funding time period, about 34,000 additional workers would be needed by the peak year of funding in 2023.

The watchdog agency did present a caveat in its report, though.

GAO found mixed results from analysis of three indicators related to occupational labor shortages: unemployment rate; employment levels; and wage growth rate.

The agency found that unemployment rates for selected broadband deployment occupations were lower than the national average, which is suggestive of a possible labor shortage. However, the agency’s study did not find observable increases in employment levels and wages for the selected occupations as would be expected in the presence of labor shortages.

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