Broadband and Job Training

On August 26, 2009, the Federal Communications Commission held a National Broadband Plan workshop focused on the potential impact of increased broadband access on job training and job placement. Topics of discussion included: Online and remote job training, Access to jobs, Adult education, The future of job searches, and Digital literacy for adults.

Rutgers University's Heather McKay, the Director of the Innovative Training and Workforce Development Programs at the Center for Women and Work, discussed how online learning has been proven to be an effective method of education and skills training, and has been utilized successfully in the workforce development system. Despite its well researched benefits, the successful implementation of online learning throughout the United States is limited due to the capacity -- and in some cases absence of -- broadband technology in some areas of the country. She said online job training is cost effective, viable solution for adult learners.

Wordle created from this workshop's transcript:

McKay said many traditional job training programs exclude people either by design or default because they don't take into account the needs of the people who are to be served. These programs don't adjust for people's irregular hours or take into account their child care needs. McKay noted the ground-breaking online learning programs supported by the Department of Labor and the state of New Jersey that proved to be effective in both completion rates and raising participants wages. Some 21 states not employ online job training.

But McKay also noted the need for broadband which improves the effectiveness of online job training, opening up more choices to participants and allowing programs to be interactive.

The Department of Labor's Richard Horne spoke to accessibility issues. He warned that in designing software, applications and services, accessibility is often the last thing considered even though it is much easier and less expensive to address accessibility at the front end of design rather than retrofitting on top of a product.

Kermit Kaleba, a Senior Policy Analyst at the Workforce Alliance, spoke about creating opportunities. He said online learning is definitely here to stay, but noted its limitation (it is not hands on, it at times lacks context, and is still largely unregulated). He also said that access is only part of the problem: literacy is a huge problem in the US and ESL instruction is also needed.

In addition, Kaleba identified the following needs:

  • recruitment/outreach
  • assessment
  • career counseling
  • promote persistence and completion
  • support service: child care, transportation (still need computer, etc)

It talked about the challenges of connecting and coordinating the efforts various agencies at all levels of government. He said the aim should be to create seamless "career pathways" for dislocated and disadvantaged workers. And, importantly, job training must be tied to appropriate occupations for the community being served.

Presidium Learning's Christopher Edward Etesse spoke about the interrelationship of rural broadband and education as it relates to K-12 and higher education trends, especially the for-profit at home students whose work is dependent on broadband.'s Eric Winegardner gave a passionate presentation on why fast, reliable and affordable Internet access is essential to effective job seeking and a durable path to economic independence. Eric Winegardner noted how today's successful job seekers are using technology to research opportunities, present themselves effectively, connect with those who can help, and plan ahead for long term career success. Services like Monster, he said, are really online career management. And he equated a good career with a good life. He said the goal should be to make free information available at people's fingertips.

Blackboard President Tim Hill gave a presentation on how access to education, training and re-skilling for workers is a critical element for employment and even job creation. Delivering education and training online is efficient, affordable and impactful, he said. And broadband and high-speed Internet access are critical elements in delivering online education to learners.

During a question and answer program, the FCC asked panelists what specific recommendations they had about job training.

McKay said people need access to a place to do job training -- a laptop, perhaps, so it can do anywhere. Winegardner warned not to leaves leave private sector out and suggested collaborate with other agencies (like the Department of Labor). Communications Workers of America Senior Director Yvette Herrera suggested that the FCC learn from the history of deploying the phone network throughout the US and using it as a model for universal broadband deployment. She suggested setting a goal of getting broadband to everyone within five years. Christopher Etesse suggested defining broadband at at least 5 megabits per second.

The FCC asked how a plan could address helping people to understand the importance of broadband adoption. The answer was effective outreach -- getting into communities and showing people what broadband can do for them. Winegardner said that for people who are jobless, unemployment may be the compelling reason for people to get online and be proactive so they are never out of work again. McKay said we'll need to address literacy skills

Hill wondered aloud how the plan will address protecting the margins of network builders and operators with government subsidies. He said we may need to try to convince people that a broadband connection is much more important than a cable TV connection.

Asked to identify the biggest problem, the answer was #1 literacy and #2 building meaningful content.