Despite economic shifts in traditional industries like manufacturing and agriculture, the U.S. tech sector is booming, with jobs within the sector growing 3 percent every year. However, the American workforce is struggling to keep up. The United States has more than 500,000 unfilled computing jobs today, and unless we address this serious issue, that number is expected to double by 2024. American colleges and universities only graduate 40,000 students with computer science degrees each year, and just 25 percent of K-12 schools offer dedicated computer science classes, leaving millions of America’s future workers without access to academic and career training for tech-driven jobs. At the same time, our country is plagued with a critical digital divide — more than 34 million Americans, 23 million of whom live in rural areas, do not have access to the internet. While these are independently important issues, they collectively paint a dire picture for a country that has long led the world in technology and innovation. Unless we find a solution to provide our workforce with the training requisite for computing jobs and the ability to connect to broadband internet, we jeopardize our ability to succeed in a global digital world.
Fortunately, we have an untapped resource that can help provide access to broadband connectivity to support workers preparing for jobs of the future. That resource comes in the form of television white spaces (TVWS); unused television bands that can deliver fast, strong internet to rural and remote parts of the United States.
Here’s why workforce development is important.
Based in rural Pikesville, Kentucky, Bit Source is a web and software development firm that creates websites, apps, and games for customers around the country. In addition to these services, they have established a computer coding training program to help former coal workers explore new work opportunities. Since the coal industry that once drove their local economy began to decline in 2008, more than 10,000 coal workers have been laid off and left without jobs, an income, or the necessary skills for well-paying work in their community. As a result, Bit Source’s founders Rusty Justice and M. Lynn Parrish began a program that offered nearly six months of paid training in computer programming for 10 former coal workers. At the end of their training, the apprentices had the skills to excel in software development, preparing local workers to meet the demands of the workforce.
Similarly, Project Hosts has developed an OnRamp Training Program to prepare former steel workers in rural Pennsylvania for careers in cloud technology. The company provides secure cloud apps for healthcare and government clients around the country, but decided to establish a technical operations center in Conneautville, Pennsylvania, to train workers not traditionally engaged in the tech and computing industry. In 2003, Project Hosts established a Cloud Service Engineer Apprentice Program for students enrolled at two- and four-year colleges in western Pennsylvania. The program provides a fully-paid, 90-day training and certification in Microsoft cloud computing, and provides the opportunity for full-time employment at Project Hosts upon completion.
Bit Source and Project Hosts are just two of the many training programs that provide local workers with the skills to tap into the thriving tech sector, however, many communities struggle to access broadband to support these types of initiatives. Where physical infrastructure like highways was once vital to ship tons of coal and agricultural goods around the globe, American communities, especially in rural areas, require fast, reliable broadband infrastructure to deliver their internet-driven products – their apps, their code, their ingenuity—to consumers everywhere.
Here’s where television white spaces can play a role.
Utilizing unused television spectrum bands, television white spaces provide an avenue to deploy broadband connectivity in hard-to-reach communities, and establish a pathway for interested workers to engage with the tech sector. Whether enabling workers to take online computer science training, supporting workforce development training courses, or helping rural software companies share apps and products developed in the heartland, television white spaces can help provide the broadband foundation to bridge the digital divide and close the workforce gap. With access to this vital resource, more American workers can take advantage of workforce training opportunities provided online, and develop the skills they need to succeed in our growing tech community.