LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) — Closing the digital divide has become a priority for Louisiana since the COVID-19 pandemic shone a light on the crucial role high-speed internet plays in the educational and economic systems of Louisiana. State.
Using federal funds, the state launched a $180 million program last year to provide underserved areas with high-speed internet access. In March, the Acadiana Region hosted Vice President Kamala Harris in Ville Platte to announce another $30 million federal grant to build fiber internet in 11 rural towns across the region.
Although significant federal investments are aimed at closing this gap, the funds cannot go so far without an increase in the number of workers capable of building and installing high-speed Internet infrastructure, The Advertiser reported.
“We have so much work today that we can’t keep up. We should almost double our headcount without hiring new customers,” said Nathan Carbo, who runs internet infrastructure company System Services alongside his wife Kristin Carbo.
“I need 30 people yesterday,” he added.
It’s a similar story for LUS Fiber, especially after the city-owned telecommunications company received $21 million of that $30 million federal grant earlier this year and is asking for a $19 million share. of the state’s $180 million GUMBO program to expand into other rural Acadiana communities. .
“It’s hard to find workers who want to work in the house and who can be critical thinkers to troubleshoot this technology, but also be skilled enough to do the operational side of running these cables, dressing them and s make sure they look good, plus have that customer experience so they can explain how to use the product,” said Ryan Meche, Director of LUS Fiber.
“So there are a lot of pieces.”
But the problem presents an opportunity to invest in local communities and develop a workforce that can capitalize on the need for workers who can install and repair high-speed internet infrastructure.
“Why don’t we invest in our local communities and create local jobs with everything we do? said Nathan Carbo.
To that end, the Carbos and Meche are working with South Louisiana Community College to launch a new fiber optic installation technician program this summer to meet the region’s growing labor needs and help residents to develop skills to launch their careers.
“We’ve been working with the industry for just over two years to design a program that’s versatile enough to produce entry-level employees in every aspect of this industry,” said Charlotte LeLeux, director of transportation, distribution and SLCC logistics. .
The school’s new fiber optic technician program is set to launch at SLCC’s Crowley campus in July, LeLeux said, with room for about 25 to 30 students to take the 18 to 20-week course.
It will cover how to splice fiber optic cables, how to hang cable on telephone poles, how to operate installation equipment and other skills. The goal will be to cover everything from construction to installing fiber in the house, LeLeux said, “so that when they are hired by these companies, their training with them is very minimal.
“It would be a win for the college, a win for the student, and a definite win for our industry partners,” she said.
Ideally, this collaboration is a pathway to creating gainful employment opportunities locally, while developing a workforce to meet the needs of increasingly connected communities in Acadiana.
“It will be good for everyone,” he added. “I think it will create better paying jobs and a better quality of life. I think everyone will win.