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BTOP Case Study: Building 21st Century Job Skills in California

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In today’s information-age economy, broadband is becoming a necessity for anyone searching for or applying for a job. Many job openings are only posted online. And about 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies only accept applications online. What’s more, in the current job market, digital literacy skills are often a requirement. For example, about 60 percent of working Americans use the Internet as an integral part of their jobs. Yet too many Americans lack the broadband access or skills needed to succeed in the workforce.

To help address this gap, the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, or BTOP, is investing approximately $4 billion in roughly 230 projects to increase broadband access and adoption around the country. The Recovery Act program, which is administered by the Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration, recognizes that broadband can be a key to economic empowerment.
One project funded in part by BTOP is the California Emerging Technology Fund, or CETF, a non-profit established at the direction of the California Public Utilities Commission to help close the state's digital divide. CETF is using a Recovery Act investment to provide computer, digital literacy and workforce training for low-income communities and other vulnerable populations. The program works through 19 partners statewide, including non-profits that offer job training and career development services for the unemployed and homeless. Two of those organizations, Chrysalis in Southern California and The Stride Center in Northern California, are using Recovery Act funding to train clients in information technology skills and place graduates in IT positions. CETF also works with partners such as the Chicana Latina Foundation and Youth Radio, to raise awareness of the importance of broadband and ensure its programs serve California's diverse population—from Hispanic farm workers in the Central Valley to seniors in San Francisco's Chinatown. Classes are offered in Spanish, Chinese and other languages.

CETF Senior Vice President Susan Walters reports that more than 1,000 people, including former addicts, parolees and chronically unemployed, are now working in information and communications technology jobs because of the Recovery Act investment. These jobs, she says, pay starting salaries of $40,000 to $60,000 a year, bring economic self-sufficiency and offer promising futures. And while Walters credits BTOP with helping to make it all possible, she says the “real heroes are those who complete rigorous job training programs - those adults who take a risk and enroll in a digital literacy class in addition to having two or three very low-wage jobs, and parents with low literacy levels who enroll in training because they think it will help their children have a better life.”

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