Connected Nation

The chicken or the egg: A workforce conundrum for America's broadband infrastructure

May 31, 2023 Season 4 Episode 16
The chicken or the egg: A workforce conundrum for America's broadband infrastructure
Connected Nation
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Connected Nation
The chicken or the egg: A workforce conundrum for America's broadband infrastructure
May 31, 2023 Season 4 Episode 16

On this episode of Connected Nation, we focus on a critical need within the  workforce – having more trained workers who can help expand and maintain America’s broadband infrastructure.   

Learn why those who are laser focused on this issue are concerned that the federal rules around grant monies are not keeping up with the need and how they’d like ISPs and workforce development groups to step in and help. 

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

On this episode of Connected Nation, we focus on a critical need within the  workforce – having more trained workers who can help expand and maintain America’s broadband infrastructure.   

Learn why those who are laser focused on this issue are concerned that the federal rules around grant monies are not keeping up with the need and how they’d like ISPs and workforce development groups to step in and help. 

Jessica Denson,  Host (00:10):

This is Connected Nation, an award-winning podcast focused on all things broadband from closing the digital divide to improving your internet speeds. We talk technology topics that impact all of us, our families, and our neighborhoods.


On today's podcast, we focus on a critical need within the workforce, having more skilled workers who can help expand and maintain America's broadband infrastructure. The Oklahoma Broadband office took a break from, its let's get digital Oklahoma Broadband tour to host an internet for all event in Tulsa on May 24th.


During that event, they convened a panel of six representatives who are laser focused on this need. You'll hear why some are concerned that the federal rules around grant monies are not keeping up with the growing and even immediate need, and how they'd like internet service providers and workforce development groups to step in and help. I'm Jessica Denson, and this is Connected Nation

Speaker 2 (01:08):

In southeast Oklahoma. We're, we do definitely struggle with getting the ability to get high trained quality technicians in, so we have the kimchi technical facilities down there. Uh, we are starting a program working with them to get interns to come in and train with our already, um, implemented staff. Um, with the, the wide variety of jobs that we're looking for between tower climbing, fiber optics, aerial construction support, sales engineers. Uh, there's, there's a wide range of jobs that are gonna be needed and to serve the rural communities. They're, they're just not there. There's that, that population isn't there to serve. So, um, having that job placement, having some, uh, on the job training, um, is gonna be key for us to, to be able to build that workforce. Having training, um, safety coordination, all of that already pre, pre-done before they come onto the job site, gets them ready faster. Um, so we're working on an intern program to be able to get those in, get them, um, situated their feet wet and see if that's a good fit for 4 360 communications. So, great.

Speaker 3 (02:10):

All right. Am I on? Okay. Well, we've got an eight week long fiber optic technician training program that we do, where we run from fundamentals all the way to, uh, network troubleshooting. We build in, uh, soft skills as well, like resume writing interview skills. It's about 25% theory, 75% hands on. Uh, let's see. We've currently run two cohorts through Oak Moge. We've had, uh, two similar, uh, courses in Tulsa, but they're under a different grant. And we're getting ready to start our third cohort June 5th. And, um, basically it's just the Abso absolute technical aspect of fiber optic training. It's not the aerial construction necessarily. It's more of the advanced stuff up.

Speaker 4 (02:50):

Okay. So just remind me, your question was, what are we doing to,

Speaker 2 (02:56):

What are you doing to

Speaker 5 (02:58):

With program, you know, discuss a little bit about what you're doing to prepare

Speaker 4 (03:01):

Future workers. Okay. So, Brandon's the program coordinator for N T I A, and I'm the program coordinator for arpa. And what we do is kind of similar. We wanna train these students in an eight, sometimes 10 week course, so that once they are done being trained, they can go immediately into the field and perform as fiber optic technicians. They learn advanced fiber splicing. Part of that. We also offer soft skills, which I teach. So I teach soft skills training, and then we build and write their resume. And then we host a career fair with, uh, industry partners. And we invite, uh, past graduates of the program to come to the career fair if they still are looking for a job. And the current graduates and even future graduates, if we have a cohort currently in session. We held a career affair yesterday, was very successful.


Uh, we had companies as far as, uh, Portland and then Dallas Fort Worth area come to help recruit or come to recruit some of our students. So we are, um, providing a range of services, not just the technical training. We're providing the wraparound services as well with the soft skills resume building for the students in, for the students in the NTIA program. Um, that program is conducted on our campus in Oak Malki. And we have, we provide additional services, uh, through Pete's Pantry. So any of the students who are maybe dealing with food insecurity, cuz some of our students are recent high school graduates, or some of them are single parents. They, um, are welcome to go into Pete's Pantry and have access to food. Uh, they also have access to clothing if they need clothing for, um, interview. Okay. Professional clothing for interviewing. Um, so we, we are trying to provide a variety of services that we're able to, to help the students be as successful as possible. Um, I think we'll address later on what else we need help with in providing students to be successful. I think that's a later question, so I will pass it down to Charles.

Speaker 6 (05:10):

Thank you. When I speak about our program, we actually, our program, I wanna go back and give a bit of history. We started our fiber cabling program about two years ago, and the fiber cabling program is each basically where we teach the students to climb, uh, pole lines. Uh, we strand, we string the cable, we, uh, engage in processing it, uh, tensioning it, uh, providing proper strain relief. Uh, all of all, we teach a very active safety program associated with that. That's an eight week program. And it's been in, in existence now for two years with the Cherokee Nation to date, we have, and, and about a year and a half with Muskogee Creek Nation to date, we've graduated over 160, a hundred, actually 161 students out of those, out, out of those programs. Uh, I can tell you that program has been very successful in that virtually every student who has graduated had a job the day that they graduated.


And so we very, we were very pleased about that. In about a year, about a year and a half ago, the opportunity came to begin to look at a fiber technician program. But let me make one of the comment before I leave. The Fiber cabling program. Fiber cabling program is sponsored by the tribes. And both of those are sponsored by the tribe, uh, particularly in the case of Muscogee Creek Nation, that that's a reintegration program. We're, we're very pleased with the way that has worked out. A lot of persons, uh, challenged us at first about was that really, did that really make sense? We said yes. And we've been very, very pleased with the result. I might add that we are actually beginning a fiber cabling or just have it begun, a fiber cabling program with the Cheyne Arapahoe tribe. And I'll let Claressa Yes, excuse me.


Forgot a name here. Sorry about that. But anyway, I'll let them co cover the rest of that program, um, in our fiber technician program. A key point that we have in this program is, as Brandon said, it's an eight week program. It's a very intensive program for eight weeks. We start with fiber fundamentals. We've, uh, very intensive hands-on skills training in, uh, uh, in splicing, then a fiber to the home, fiber to the industry or office, wherever outside plant work, then otdr work, uh, extensive and then emergency restoration. That program, again, is a total of an eight week program. We've so far, uh, we are in our fourth cohort. We're in our fifth cohort. We're getting ready to start our fifth cohort. We've, we are finishing up our fourth cohort right now. And at the end of that, end of, as of June the ninth, we will have graduated 41 students in that particular program. So those are the two programs that we have. They're very successful. Uh, we would like to expand upon them, and I'll talk about some of that as we get into the next section. Next questions.

Speaker 7 (08:20):

So, I guess I wanna start by, um, giving our little background to the shear tribes and why we brought the Fiber Optic Training program to the tribe. And so, um, like I said, I'm the court administrator. I'm over the Cheyanne tribe's judicial branch. And right now we have different programs within our judicial branch, um, that pertain in court services. Those clients were faced with certain barriers, having, um, stability, trying to break down certain barriers, giving them financial stability to break the cycle, the never ending cycle prevention. So that was the idea in bringing this here within this industry. It's a, it's a good, um, workforce for these tribal members, non-tribal members within our area. And so, um, that was the idea of bringing it to the shine for tribes. It has grown immensely. Um, Caressa is our coordinator over our fiber optics training course, and I'm gonna hand it over to her to give more specifics as to what we offer with the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribe. <laugh>

Speaker 8 (09:21):

Morning again, um, as Charles Anna and Brandon said, we're kind of the pindi off OSU out here was the 35. Um, as Charles mentioned before, we are operating a eight week lineman, cabling, um, program, fiber lineman program, uh, through osu. Uh, we have an OSU instructor in place there. Um, our program is being re referenced to as a hybrid program because I believe we're the only program right now offering the cable bowling into the, the splicing certification. So our guys, the cable program's, an eight week program, the splicing program, we offer the fundamentals in O T D R, which turns into an ultimately a 10 week program. So when our graduates are graduating, they're graduating with a dual certifications. Um, right now we are at the very last week of that program. So we're kind of jumping into those exciting areas of graduation. Um, I think I have, I'll save my, the rest of that for later. <laugh>,

Speaker 5 (10:24):

I'm, I'm going to ask a side question because of, of my educational background and training background for each group and, and you can group a tribe, osu, IT and, and business and industry. How do you go about recruiting potential students? Because, you know, some of them are disadvantaged and that's obvious you're trying to get them in the workforce, but what about someone that may have been unemployed for a while? Is there a methodology that you use with the tribes as osu i t and an industry to try to attract those? And I'm gonna start here with the tribes and let's move back down the table.

Speaker 7 (11:03):

So with us, I mean, the industry itself, it's, it's opening up, it's not gonna go anywhere. So you're gonna need workforce to maintain infrastructure. And that was the idea that this isn't gonna go away. And so with our communities, our tribal members, other tribal members with that reside within our jurisdiction, that's kind of the push that we initially did. Um, we also look at stability, the financials of this, you know, what can someone make being certified in this industry? And so we push for that as well. Um, that's the whole idea. And I think for us, breaking down those barriers for these individuals was to look at it at that slow point. Um, we've been marketing that. Um, and it's, it's been positive for us as far as retaining students for our program.

Speaker 2 (11:52):


Speaker 8 (11:55):

Um, when I meet with potential candidates, of course they have, we have an application process that is through, um, the Cheyenne-Arapaho tribes. I meet with them. And, um, one thing I do wanna mention, I know we, uh, Charlotte mentioned earlier that our training site program, we're the only one west of 35 in the state of Oklahoma at this moment. Um, for us, I, I have 10, I have 10 guys in there right now. 10 or actually eight guys, two, two, um, ladies. They range from the ages of 20 to 40. Um, some have college, somehow college degrees. They seem, they, they, they seem the opportunity and so they're like, we wanna, we wanna do this. And so, uh, for them to commit to eight weeks, that was a little tough. Um, as Anna mentioned, you know, on the other side of the state, they have their food pantry for us, we use a lot of our tribal resources, but our program itself is open to the public. Um, of course we like to do, you know, we'd like tribal member preference, but ours is open to anybody who would like to come, you know, participate in the training. It's not just limited to anyone enrolled in a federally recognized tribe. It is open to the community <laugh>.

Speaker 4 (13:07):

So, um, I'll speak for the other tribes. What they do for recruiting, um, the Muscogee Creek Nation Reintegration program, they really don't have any issues with recruitment. Uh, they generally have a wait list of students. They, um, their students get to live on site, so that helps with any housing issues. Many of these students, they may have just gotten out of prison or maybe they're having difficulty finding HO housing, so they have lodging available to them. They also are given a stipend and similar to what the Cheyenne Arapaho tribes do, they have various departments like the employment training administration, uh, vocational rehab, homeless veterans, uh, department that will help if the participants qualify, help offset the cost of training. Cause uh, the training does cost some money for the participants to attend. Um, the Cherokee Nation, they actually fully fund, uh, any of the students going through their training programs. So they don't really have any, uh, challenges when it comes to recruitment. Um, and then as for how we, uh, recruit our students, I'm gonna pass that off to Brandon cuz he actually does a lot of the recruitment for the students. Okay.

Speaker 3 (14:28):

Yeah. And a lot of that is simply boots on the ground, making inroads within the community, utilizing access to community elders to do community outreach. Once you make those inroads, it's pretty easy. But, uh, that's the main thing right there. Boots on the ground. Absolutely.

Speaker 2 (14:43):

Uh, from an industry standpoint, um, I think the program you mentioned with, uh, with recovery from, from any, any state, I think, uh, that, that's a fantastic sec. Second opportunity. Uh, the fields that we hire in, it, it, it's a specialized person to be able to climb 2000 feet and be able to understand what jumpers and what equipment they're going to need, what they're, what they're doing up in the air, and being able to be up there to do that. Uh, I know that, uh, that's not me. I'm not, I'm top heavy. I don't, I don't climb towers so that it's a specialized feature to be able to do that. And so we do not discriminate when, when they're hiring. Uh, we just need someone that can be capable of doing that job. Um, and then, you know, working on fiber optics on the lines, that's also specialized.


You're gonna be working around electricity and power. And so it's, it's a very specialized skill set. And so we actually have two of the OSU graduates from the eight week program, um, that are on our staff. And it's been a fantastic program for them. But they are, they are underneath, um, some, some industry leaders that, that way they can train and understand that process, uh, a little better. But they do, they are actually, um, in the field slicing. So that's kind of cool. But, uh, we would be open for any, any applicants and, uh, we are not getting enough. We have, we have fully, uh, we have about 12 open positions that we have, we're interviewing actively. Um, the soft skills that he mentioned is also huge. Uh, we had, uh, I think in Sasaw we had six people not show up when we drove three hours to get to those meetings and had three out of nine, um, that the other day.


So it is, it is very much of a challenge in rural Oklahoma to get people to the job site. Um, this is a, also a traveling industry. When you're building fiber optics, it's not gonna be in your backyard. So you are going to need them to be on a job site and then show up and then we're gonna drive two hours and we're gonna work that job till it's done. So it's, it's a, it's a mixed bag of, it's not an office job, not nine to five, and you're gonna be on the road. So finding the, the ability to do that and being able to work those those in is, is challenging for us.

Speaker 5 (16:40):

The, the thing I think that's important in this discussion, I hope everyone picked up, there's gonna be lots of opportunity for work if they're willing to work. There are components out in communities that can help people get their training in a relatively short period of time compared to a college degree that they can be very successful in their communities and in the industry. And so I, I applaud all of your efforts. My next question, starting that way and we'll come back, is would you talk a little bit about how you can work with the ISPs and the tribal nations in getting workforce radio?

Speaker 2 (17:18):

Um, as a, as an operator? Um, setting up our training courses obviously is key, but, uh, you know, one of the things that we haven't talked about, we're talking about fiber optics here. Um, one of the things that 360 does is, is fix wireless access. It's not gonna be a one size fits all solution to get 95% of the state of Oklahoma and covered with internet access. There are some areas of Oklahoma that are gonna be very challenging to reach. And so that fixed wireless site, we can go into those most rural areas and be able to get people connected. So we have very intense wireless, uh, training that we have, and it's about a 90 day onboarding process before we can get someone actively available to do that. And so, uh, we, we serve AAW and Choctaw Nation in southeast Oklahoma, uh, with fixed wireless access. And we're building fiber optic optics down there. I think that the biggest key is getting that connectivity out and getting that training available. Um, I don't know if that answers your question, but from the industry side of it, I don't have the training side

Speaker 3 (18:15):

Working with ISPs and Tribal Nations. The tribes have it together. We don't have any problem with that. It's the ISPs. I think we're trying to figure out how we can work with, how do we reach out to you.


I really don't know how to address this very well. I think I want to pass it on to you, Anna, because what I'm wanting to say is we're trying to figure out the way to get the word out to everybody that we've got people that we've trained. But you know, like you said, you have a shortage or you need some people. So we've gotta figure out a way that we can get to you and say, this is what we've got. These are the people we've got. So we've gotta work on something like that in developing relationships with the ISPs so that we can get these people employed and get 'em into good careers. Because we all know that this, this fiber rollout's coming, it's inevitable. Nothing's gonna stop it. So I think as far as that goes, yeah, we've gotta figure out some ways that we can develop some inroads to the ISPs. And we're really, uh, we're, we're open to conversation here on that. We're open to working with you on an individual basis. What do you need? What can we help to give you? Uh, but like I said, the tribes have it together. They really do.

Speaker 2 (19:19):

It sounds like Mjd need to be the ind <laugh>, you sit back out.

Speaker 3 (19:25):


Speaker 4 (19:27):

We need better, I think a way that we as a training provider could work more collaboratively. Not, not necessarily with the tribes. Cuz like Brandon said, the tribes have it together. Um, they're, they're very easy to work with. We're very thankful for that. But with our industry partners, ISPs, we really need the local workforce board. I don't know if there's any representatives for any of the workforce board in here, but we need them to step up and get it together. Um, there's a lot of issues there. A lot of challenges I will say. I understand they just went through, um, some transitions and that happens. But we have a lot of students who need assistance that the local workforce board could provide and that assistance would help them become more employable. But also I, you know, we do know that we owe a funding and there's other funding available through workforce boards that could maybe help subsidize their wages and allow them to become employed with subsidized wages to get more on the job training experience and which would hopefully open employers up and ISPs up to want to hire more people.


I know, I know. What we're hearing, what industry is telling us is, well, we don't really have the money to hire a lot of new technicians, but we will need these technicians in a few months when the money starts coming in from a federal level. Okay, I completely understand that. I've worked in grants for 10 years. I've done workforce development for 10 years. I understand that and I am empathetic to that. But we are training people now who need to be hired or else they're gonna go out state. And some of them have, some of them are going to Texas Boo. We don't want our people going to Texas, we wanna stay here. Um, so we really need the local for sports to get it together and help with this and quit holding up the funding that they have that is meant for the students and meant for industry to be able to hire people with subsidized wages and provide them on the JOBB training. That's my 2 cents <laugh>.

Speaker 6 (21:44):

Let me, let me explain a little bit of what we're doing at the current time. I've said already that we're have very active relationship with three of the tribes. We have two other tribes that we're in serious discussions with right now. I will tell you that in any case, when you sit down with the tribe, we have our, our program that we've put together and we know it's, it's a good program. It's, we're teaching the basics that they really need, but at the same time, we're more than willing to adjust to the program. And we just referred to the Cheyenne Arapahoe, uh, tribe. Normally our program is an eight week program. It turns out in the case of Cheyenne Arapahoe, they said, we really don't want, or don't feel like we need an eight week program right now, but we would like for you to teach fiber fundamentals and extensive, uh, on fusion extensive period of time on fusion splicing. So we've adapted our program to meet their specific needs. Is it our, is it the same content as the eight week program? No way. But it does in those particular two areas, it's gonna be the same level of depth covering those two different subjects. Uh, I will say right now there are a lot of, there are some shorter programs available in the state.


The whole subject of fiber optics is something that you don't teach in a day or two <laugh>. I mean, the theory alone is something that takes some real intensive area effort. So what we are trying to do is make sure that when we deal with any tribe or any career tech, we are clear about what we are going to teach and what, what, how much time it's going to take. Then we'll adjust the program to meet their specific needs. I mentioned the career techs. We have relationships with five different career techs. Um, excuse me. We have four that are actually formal agreements and we have a fifth one we're working on at the current time. In those cases, again, we're, we are trying to have a program which is a collaborative program. It works to our, to the mutual advantage. They have an advantage in working with us.


We have an advantage in working with them. One thing, if you think about the career tech, they're faced with a situation where probably they don't have enough. They're not gonna have enough students to run the program, uh, cost full year, all all year. The, the equipment alone that you're buying, if you're getting it into this fiber optic program is very expensive. I'm talking in terms of things that exceed a hundred thousand dollars as a minimum for equipment, probably much more than that. Well, if you think about a career tech, if they only teach two cohorts a year or three cohorts a year, it's hard for them to get the return on investment that you would like to have. Well, by our working together, we can take the same set of equipment and move from career tech to career tech. Uh, as we teach the courses, then they're not out the investment or for all the equipment to start with. And we've got the equipment which we've utilized over and over and over and we're teaching a consistent program. So, um, I hopefully I've addressed a little bit of the question of how are we working with tribal nations and how are we te I didn't, didn't address the ISPs, but specifically with the career techs, that's been our approach,

Speaker 8 (25:01):

Um, for the tribes, for our, um, our lineman program, our, um, technician program. We are in the backyard of Oklahoma City. We're probably one of the only tribes that are in the backyard of Oklahoma City that are, we're like literally 20 minutes outside of Oklahoma City. So with that being said, I know one of the things I've struggled with, and I know I work extensively with Brandon often to, um, had assisted him in creating our advisory board. We know we have all these major companies in Oklahoma City and they have been a little slow or not as proactive in working with us in discussion about our students and, you know, hiring or their needs, you know, the company's needs and what we could, you know, change up for our students. Um, so that is an issue. Um, but we, like I said, we're in the back door of Oklahoma City or the backyard of Oklahoma City.


We're right there and our students are ready. They're gonna be ready. I have a, we have a small community within our tribal service area municipality that created their own broadband office. And um, they, I asked them if they could wanted to take on some of our students, cuz that's something that would go to their certification hours, some on the work experience. They're like, no, no, no. At the time, well then I looked on Facebook on social media and seen where their crew cut a major water line and cut water off to one side of the city. And I had let 'em know. I was like, my students wouldn't have done that. <laugh>

Speaker 9 (26:27):


Speaker 7 (26:31):

So I think for us, you know, within a tribe, tribal nations in itself, we don't really have any difficulties as far as, um, what we're trying to incorporate. And I'm, you know, I know the Kiowa tribe's here, John's here with the Kaiwa tribe and you know, we're kind of all on board. This isn't gonna go anywhere. It's coming. We've gotta get ahead of this kind of spearheading. Um, and so that's the idea. Um, with our, um, program, like Cressa said, you know, we're right outside of Oklahoma City. We're the only entity at this point that offers this kind of training to the northwest corridor of Oklahoma for 20 minutes outside of Oklahoma City. You know, that's convenient for not only businesses, but for tribal nations, for anybody who is needing to send workers to be trained. Um, and so the idea is not to just only service our tribal members or any other tribes within our jurisdiction, but all non-tribal. We want to be able to collaborate and set up those relationships within the business industry to train up these guys because it's not going anywhere. We wanna be a, you know, in front of this. And so that's the idea and, and that's kind of what we're trying to incorporate and, you know, we're, we're kind of,


You know, ahead of this and that that's what we're trying to do. So

Speaker 5 (27:49):

My next question is, what challenges do you face with graduates from your programs? And you've talked about a little bit, but anything you want to expand on, please do that.

Speaker 7 (28:02):

So I think for us, you know, we're kind of in the early stages. This is our first cohort that we are running through as far as our linemen training. They're almost in the last week of their eight week course. They're gonna go into their advanced slicing course, which is a two week. Um, so once they're done with that, they'll be graduating. Um, it's finding those local jobs, you know, looking at the workforce in our area. Like, um, Anna said that, you know, there's a chance that these guys might be grabbed by out-of-state. Um, we don't wanna lose these guys. You know, we want to be able to create workers for local. We, you know, this, like I said, this isn't going anywhere. So maintaining building infrastructures within the business side or even with tribal nations, you know, we want to be able to spearhead that workforce and, you know, that's what we're trying to do. So, um, yeah. Did I miss something

Speaker 9 (28:57):


Speaker 8 (29:00):

I'm sorry, can you repeat the question? My phone? Just maybe have a moment.

Speaker 5 (29:05):

What challenges do you face with graduates from your program?

Speaker 8 (29:09):

Um, definitely just, you know, they're asking me every day, do you know who potential employers are? Do you know where they're gonna be at? Those types of things. And I can give them some names, but I mean, it's, I don't, I hate to see their faces when I look at them and I'm, I can't really give them a lot. I definite. And that's, that's unfortunate because these individuals are highly trained. They're, they're gonna, they're gonna be good workers. Um, and they've taken eight weeks out of their lives, actually 10, our groups are 10, 10 weeks of their lives that get trained to go into this industry, you know, to be utilized. And I can't give them any definite. So that's, that's kind of an issue for me. I want to be able to give them more definite. Not asking you to come tell me right now or come tell us right now.


Hey y'all, I'm gonna ho you know, I give you take 10 guys right now businesses. But you know, it'd be nice to know that the industry is looking at us, looking at our students in all the training sites. Because like I said, eight weeks is a devotion to that 10 weeks to devotions are going through these trainings is a lot. Like I said, my guys have college, some have college degrees. They've taken that out because they've seen this as a better opportunity to provide for their families. And I just, you know, I don't like to to tell them No, no. Or there's not a lot of certainty there. <laugh>,

Speaker 6 (30:32):

Carissa covered a lot of, I almost say I second what you had to say, Chris, us. That's a challenge. Let me, let me try to be very direct on this one. To me, this is the greatest problem we face today. This is always in workforce programs. You have a problem with chicken the egg. Do you have, do you get the workers ready? And then are there jobs or do you wait until the companies need them and, and then you train them. But I can tell you right now, there's always pressure for you to have them trained, have that pipeline full. I'll also say that when you have the pipeline full, you really need people start to, to start hiring those same people or now then the interest of the, on the part of the student falls off the discouragement factor sets in. And that's particularly true in this situation we're in right here.


Um, I think we mentioned earlier, a good number of our program of our students in the, uh, fiber optic technician program come from underrepresented populations. In fact, we concentrate on that. And many of these students, this is the first time they've ever had, they've ever had the, even the vision that they might be able to get into a good paying job. I, I didn't say a, a job that makes 'em millionaires, but a good paying job that they can support their families. Many of them have quit some part-time jobs that they have in order to get the training. But right now we're in a city, we're sitting in a situation where we've got 41 graduates that come out of our fiber technician program. Every person who interviews, let say we're, we're amazed at the training that they've had. And they, and they do get that kind of training because we've been very careful to hire professionals from retirees, from Cox Communications, from, uh, Southwestern Bell or atmt or other organizations that we've, Bigby Telecom, for example, is another place that we've hired people.


These are professionals and they're giving these students the best. But now then we've got a situation where we have 41 students that have graduated from our program. Uh, I'm almost embarrassed to tell you the situation I am embarrassed to say the situation have is that no more than 10 of those right today have a job. Now is it because they're not trained? Absolutely not. They're, because as companies look at them, they say, well, they're excellent training, but we don't have the money to hire to get them for, for cause The grants haven't yet been lit. And as soon as the grants are, are placed, are are all boarded, then we'll be hiring. So the floodgates are gonna open the day the grants start. Right now we're sitting there, we had a, we had a career fair yesterday at Olge. Uh, we had about 16 companies there, and they were, they were very complimentary of what's ha what's happened.


But to a company, they said, well, you know, we're not quite ready to hire today. We just don't think we can. And I under, I mean, I've been on the business side, I understand the business issue. You can't afford to make an investment too far in advance. But on the other hand, uh, we're faced with a situation where we are beginning to lose students. And I could give you about five different cases of students who come to me and said, Mr. Harrison, I thought you told me that there were all kinds of jobs in this area. And I've said, yes, there is, there are jobs and there are going to be a significant demand. But right now they're just not developing. And I, so I point that out, we've gotta get some clarity as to when the grants are gonna be awarded, and I think we can get students ready then.


But that challenge, right, we're the question I'm asking right now, we're facing right within our organization, we're gonna have, uh, one cohort finish on June the ninth. We got another one I think finishes on June, June 16th or June some, somewhere in mid-June. There, uh, the question is, do we start another two, two or three cohorts now or do we start them at, at that timeframe? Or do we wait for a month or two after these, these cohorts graduate? And it's, it's purely a question from our standpoint of what is best for the student and what is best for the program. Uh, this, I don't, I don't want students who have gone through the program are all excited and then they get so discouraged and they drop out entirely. And I don't think that's, that's not good for the students. That's not good for the industry either. So that certainly is the greatest challenge we have. And I think anything we can do to put more clarity and spec and specificity in terms of when things are going to happen will be to the advantage of all of us.

Speaker 4 (35:05):

I don't have anything to add. I think you three covered it very

Speaker 2 (35:08):

Well. <laugh>. Yeah, I think you're gonna have to agree. Um, I wanted to just, not only the grant clarification, but a private investment doesn't want to put money, um, forward now because of the unclarity of what's coming, uh, without the maps being accurate. Uh, several private investors that pulled back projects due to not knowing. Um, and so there's, it's a twofold problem. It's great that there's money coming to the state, but without until that money is released, um, there's gonna be projects that are on hold. And so, um, I think, I think the other thing, you know, your, your technicians will definitely be able to travel and get work, but if you're wanting 'em stay in, in state, there's the, the ARPA money that's been handed out everywhere. If you follow the job boards across the United States, they're, they are begging for people to come out, but they'll have to be prepared to travel. Um, and then the, the construction has to happen for the fly splicing happens, right? And so we have, we have a lot of build to happen. So I, I would encourage them that they're gonna have to, it'll be a twofold process to get to the fibers splicing. We're gonna have to have a lot of construction first. And so, but I, I think, uh, I think having clarity of when these programs are coming out and then, um, that private investment will come back in as well once it's, once that funds are released.

Speaker 3 (36:16):

That's actually, that's actually interesting. Um, that's something that we kind of wonder about is, uh, is anybody in investing their own money in this kind of build out? Is anybody investing their own money and building up their workforce, or are they simply waiting for federal money to roll down in order to do that? Because if that's the case, that might present an issue or a problem. Um, we've been told by industry that there is a desperate need for people. And so we thought, let's go forward with this. And that's when we see that disillusionment and discouragement in the graduates. We can't really figure out what's going on when it comes to that. If you're told on the one hand we need whatever, five techs, uh, or an infinite amount, okay, we'll, we'll train 'em and do what industry needs, but we can't figure out is industry investing internally? That's one of the questions that we have because if it, if it's simply a matter of waiting for federal funding, then maybe there's some other problem there that we're not aware of on the workforce site. Maybe there's a reason maybe the projects are too expensive. I, I, I don't know the answers to those types of questions, but it does make us scratch our heads. And I think that's all I'll add to that.

Speaker 2 (37:24):


Speaker 4 (37:25):

Yeah, it makes us scratch our heads. So two years, two, two and a half years ago when we fir osu, I t first looked into applying for grant funds to start a fiber technician training program. Uh, Charles and I went out and we visited with industry, and we were told, yes, we need people now. We will hire however many we can. We will, um, you train them, we will hire them. But that hasn't happened. So we are a little confused by what's going on. We welcome very transparent and open conversations with industry so we can try to figure out how can we work together and how can OSU I t better serve you? Do we need to modify our program a little bit? Okay, we can do that. We're customized training. That's what we do. We custom customize our training programs to meet industry needs. So we do welcome very frank and direct conversations with industry so we can figure this out for the students, for the people who need to be employed. Um, so I'll just, I just wanted to add that little tidbit, <laugh>,

Speaker 5 (38:28):

I appreciate those comments and, and I'm gonna talk a little bit from a personal standpoint. I've had the opportunity to work with Charles and the OSU IT folks from a standpoint of going out and tour their facility. If you are an IS p if you are an a potential employer, if you are a tribal member that doesn't have a program in this area, I would encourage you to take the efforts to go to oge, get an appointment with that staff, and go through and look at their setup. It's not a complicated setup, but it's got high priced equipment in it. I've been working with Brent Haen, who is the new director of career tech in Steelwater. We've had some detailed conversations, as has staff from the Oklahoma broadband office and visiting. They're kind of in a limbo like Charles talks about. They're eager to get something going, but yet they don't see the market to place those students.


And when you spend state funds to train them, there's an expectation that they're gonna be, be utilized within the state and in industries it's related to. And so been there, walked that road. And the challenge that this whole table has had is that they gotta have the ball and they got their employees trained, future employees trained, but they're really needing help right now. Getting them in, placed in some jobs that would lead up to the high end fiber connecting that they're, that they've been specialized in. And until you walk through the program and look at the technology involved in it, you really can't appreciate it unless you're already in that business. It's not a, a deal that just somebody off the streets, you're gonna grab 'em and 30 minutes later you've got 'em trained to do that. Much, much more complicated than that. The other thing that I'm going to brag about, osu i t and their work with the tribes and, and other industries, that equipment is very expensive.


I had a career tech call me a few weeks ago and said, Jim, they're telling us it's going to be anywhere from eight months to a year and four months before we can get this fiber optic splicing. And, uh, I suggested that they call and talk to Charles and they're willing to work with those career tech campuses and do some short term splicing so that they can be trained in southwest Oklahoma, Southeast Oklahoma central or, or northwest. But they're going to have to get their resources together and sit down and, and talk and visit with them. And if you fall into those categories before you leave here today, talk to the tribal members here about their experience. If you are wanting to represent a tribal entity, talk to Charles and talk to business about what the needs are there so that you can kind of get your resources aligned.


A lot of these things take place from meetings like this. People just talking changing cards and saying, okay, we can help you with this. Cox may need some people, others may need some people. And even if you don't hire the two or three of these folks, you're filling the pipeline up so that when it does expand, they're ready to go and that, and that's where they need their help. My final question to the committee up here at this time or the, is this, how can the state work closely with your programs and what assistance can the state provide or the Oklahoma broadband office provide and, uh, where the mike end up at? Just in, let's just start in the middle and then that way come back

Speaker 4 (42:04):

<laugh>. Okay, so something we're hearing from students, if there's any type of supplemental funding that could go directly to the students, again, this would be great through the workforce sports, but some of our students struggle with the cost of gas. So I mean, gas cards would be great for them. We are not allowed, we're not allowed to buy gas cards with grant funds or university funds. We just can't do that. Um, some of the students need help with, um, maybe they need proper boots to go out into the field when they have a job. So really any type of supplemental funding or assistance for the students is really needed. Um, and then I don't wanna take up all of the time. I'm sure you guys have input too. So that, that's my input. How could the state help out? Just help with the student costs, the, so they can overcome their barriers to attending class and then actually going out on the job.

Speaker 2 (43:06):

I had to collect my thoughts <laugh>, um, just a place for ISPs to be able to go one stop and then, you know, there's multiple, multiple avenues to get that the trainee in. Um, if the broadband office could have those resources available so we could call the broadband office and then find you guys. I think that'd be a good way. That way we're, we're throwing out in, you know, ads of everywhere, Facebook, indeed, whatever the case may be, but a specialized, specialized trainee, we could go to a location.

Speaker 5 (43:32):

One of the challenges we faced, and I faced this as the superintendent of the skill centers, is the HEPA laws. We have to work around. And I say that because we can't go out and post their names where they're at, because that gets into the privacy issues. But what we did in the skill centers, we had a contact person that was an employment officer for us, and they would call and say, look, we're such and such company. We're looking for people that can do that. You have anyone available? We would take it upon ourselves to contact the students and we would have them directly contact the company that got around it, because if they chose not to contact the company, we didn't violate any privacy. Right. And did all of 'em contact? No, but the majority of 'em did. Probably 80%. So that may be some of the things we need to work on through the broadband office is getting some contacts with different entities, the tribes, osu, i t, the tech center, that if someone calls their potential employer, they can connect them to the right person, they can talk to 'em, get with those potential employees and them contact the employer.


Yep. And we can beat that. Does that make sense? Yeah,

Speaker 8 (44:42):

Absolutely. Um, one issue, I will, I will be honest with you, <laugh>, I was directed to use Oklahoma Works or okay, works to try to direct some individuals for tuition assistance. We hit roadblock after a roadblock with them. Literally, we were told that, um, any of our applicants who would like to utilize them would number one, have to be outta work six to eight weeks prior. And then they couldn't start the program itself until they went through their six to eight week application approval process. So if you add up the weeks, we're literally putting everybody outta work for several months. That wasn't feasible, that wasn't realistic. And so, um, I do, we, we did try to refer several people in that direction. Luckily our tribal nations, we do work, you know, collaborate, you know, collaborate with several of our tribal nations here in Oklahoma, um, to help with funding, um, especially our vo you know, voc rehab, our ETA type programs. But Oklahoma Works was definitely a roadblock for us. Um, it was something we couldn't even look at. I mean, I, I just can't even tell. It's, I couldn't tell someone, Hey, you're gonna have to be outta work from almost six months before you can even apply to go to this training when you're devoting another 10 weeks to be in, you know, without, you know, income. I mean, it just wasn't realistic.

Speaker 7 (46:14):

So I think it's, uh, the same. Um, but what's good about, uh, tribal nations is we have our own programs. So with our, um, er tribal members and maybe some tribal members that reside within our jurisdiction, we have programs there that can help them with assistance with tuition, gas cards, food cards, things like that. It's the state that we're running into barriers with. And I'm not trying to, you know, throw anyone under the bus here, but this is something real that we're, we're facing. And so those, um, students who want to come and utilize our training, who are non-native, you know, some of our resources they can't utilize. And so when we're going to the state to try to find them resources to get through this training, to, to make it, um, it's just not there. And so that's one of the big issues that we're running into as far as, um, with our non-real members. So

Speaker 6 (47:09):

I want to say that the Oklahoma broadband office has been extremely good to work with. And I don't want anything that we've said to anyone say that we're pointing fingers at this point or, or this place. They've been very, very cooperative. Uh, Dr. Dr. Meek, uh, Eden, Mike, they've been responsive in answering our questions. I think what we're trying to say is things are going well. There's a lot of opportunity out here, but we have some common challenges that we've gotta work together to try to get around. There are some problems that I think if we put our hits together and work hard at it, we can find a way to get there. And we've got the right team in Oklahoma City to work with. So I thank you, Jim, and the whole team. Thank you.

Jessica Denson,  Host (47:58):

That wraps part two of our coverage of the internet for All event held in Tulsa, Oklahoma. During one of the breaks between panels, I sat down with two internet service providers and a nonprofit looking for partners to help accelerate getting access to more people. I'll bring you that discussion on the next podcast.


 I'm Jessica Denson. Thanks for listening to Connected Nation. If you like our show and wanna know more about us, head to connected or look for the latest episodes on iTunes, iHeartRadio, Google Podcast, Pandora, or Spotify.


Program to train staff
How long training takes
Fiber cabling program and Muscogee Creek Nation
Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes
OSU program
Cherokee Nation
This work is not in your backyard
The challenges of placement
The cost of training
The students are ready
Kiowa Tribe
"The industry should be looking at us"
Grants vs. private investment
Keeping trained workers in state
Challenges for connecting workers to ISPs
The Oklahoma Broadband Office is fantastic