Ohio University to build broadband workforce in region as part of Ohio’s Broadband and 5G Workforce Strategy

In Athens County, 81 percent of the populated area and 52 percent of households do not have access to the minimum 25/3 megabits per second internet speed, according to Ohio’s broadband website. The rugged terrain and large amount of undeveloped land that makes southeast Ohio naturally beautiful also makes broadband infrastructure installation difficult. However, federal and state governments are expanding infrastructure and Ohio University is working to develop a workforce ready to impact the expansion.

Ohio University will lead southeast Ohio’s regional hub for broadband and 5G workforce development. OHIO has partnered with Hocking College, the Area 14 Workforce Development Board and many others with the goal of expanding the region’s broadband workforce. The hub will provide resources to the southeast Ohio community to train the personnel needed for local broadband expansion.

Leadership is a crucial aspect of OHIO’s role in the success of the southeast broadband hub. Ohio University is responsible for gathering all the entities and partners involved in the hub, working to track the expansion of broadband training—and if those who receive training are getting employed, developing and communicating funding possibilities for broadband expansion, overseeing budgets and program developments with educational partners and identifying any barriers or issues that may come up.

Laurie McKnight, senior research manager for broadband at the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Service, manages the southeast Ohio hub and is responsible for the 25-county node. In addition to her other responsibilities, McKnight holds biweekly and monthly meetings with educational institutions, broadband employers, OhioMeansJobs centers, workforce development areas, community action agencies and other partners in the region to ensure the program’s goals are being met and expanded upon.

“It's a huge task,” said McKnight. “There are a lot of people involved and that's why they created these regional nodes, to make sure the people who know their area are working on developing the workforce together.”

The southeast Ohio hub is one of six regional hubs across the state that will help expand the efforts of Ohio’s Broadband and 5G Sector Partnership. OHIO was designated to lead the southeast regional hub due to its previous work collecting and analyzing broadband data with the state of Ohio's Office of Workforce Transformation and Workforce Development Office.

The U.S. Department of Labor allocated $1.2 million in funding to be shared across all the Southeast Ohio hub partners. The funding is mainly designated to pay for eligible participants in the region to access broadband and 5G training. According to McKnight, Southeast Ohioans who are unemployed, have a limited employment record, or were laid off during the COVID-19 pandemic are eligible and encouraged to apply, but anyone who's interested in broadband training can apply at their local JobsOhio center or one of the training providers throughout the region.

The goal is to train the workforce now before nearly $800 million from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) funding goes into effect in late 2024. The BEAD funding will power a massive broadband infrastructure expansion in southeast Ohio and create around 2,500 jobs and 26,000 to 32,000 direct infrastructure deployments in the region.

“These will be very in demand and well-paying jobs, especially in 2024 and beyond,” said McKnight. “Broadband will be a significant employer for the region.”

There are many trainings currently available in the Southeast Ohio area including at Belmont-Harrison Career Center, Buckeye Hill Career Center, Hocking College, Mid-East Career and Technology Centers, Noble Local School District, Tri-County Career Center and Washington County Career Center. 

December 5, 2023
Staff reports