How the Program Provides a Path to Better Workforce Development
Zanesville, OH (July 27, 2020) – It all started in Zanesville, Ohio, back in 2013. That’s when Connected Nation (CN) staff began evolving their digital literacy skills program into a targeted community revitalization and job growth program called Digital Works.
“Our nonprofit has always been focused on helping individuals and families access the internet and related technologies,” said Chris Pedersen, Vice President of Planning and Development, CN. “As we worked with more community leaders and began identifying the needs in both rural and urban areas, a trend started to emerge—there was not a program to increase job options in many of these areas. We knew that if we could provide digital training and job placement assistance for online positions it would help fill that need.”
The goal was to provide a workforce and economic development platform that could be tailored to everything from large, urban settings to small, rural towns or even statewide programs.
By working with more than 70 companies nationwide, Digital Works staff developed a training model that answered the specific needs of online employers, making graduates of the program even more appealing than the typical applicants.
“It’s a one-of-kind job creation program because it is so focused on what employers are looking for in those high-demand telework professions,” said Tammy Spring, Operations Manager, Digital Works. “Because of that training and the mentoring we provide throughout the program, and often long after students complete the program, we have a high job placement rate among our graduates.”
On July 27, 2020, Digital Works marked its 1,000 th job placement—a major milestone for the program. Most of the jobs are remote, economic-base, and in-demand positions—providing new employment opportunities and a larger tax base for communities and states.
“I promote Digital Works so intensely, even to my own company,” said Tracy Dwyer, a 2014 Digital Works graduate and LiveOps employee. “You’re getting trained agents. We know they know how to use a computer, they know how to type, and they already have a background check. That knocks out 50 percent of our troubles. If we bring on someone from Digital Works, we know a lot more about them and we know that they’re serious because they put in the time to learn these skills.”
Over the last seven years, the program has evolved. Since May of 2013, CN has opened 16 facilities and eight franchise locations, conducted countless training boot camps and workshops, as well as instituted the U.S. Virtual platform to train and help place those who were interested in working remotely from anywhere in the country.
“This journey began in Zanesville, Ohio, but we have since crisscrossed the U.S.—taking this program into new communities,” said Spring. “We’ve trained and mentored people in 17 states. Our graduates come from all walks of life. They include, among others, single parents, veterans, active and transitioning military, young adults, senior citizens, and more who are looking for either part-time work or full-time work and want more flexibility in their careers.”
Between 2013 and 2020, Digital Works has been leveraged from Kansas to Kentucky. But the most prolific classes to date took place in one of the program’s most rural locations—Gallipolis, Ohio. Digital Works began work in the small town in November 2013 and had 180 job
placements from that location alone. Gallipolis is located in far southeast Ohio and has a population under 5,000.
“It’s important to point out the success we had in Gallipolis because it demonstrates how this program can positively impact rural areas,” said Pedersen. “Gallia County, where the town is located, had seen a lot of businesses close and people were moving out of the area. The unemployment rate was nearly 6.5 percent, and more than 26 percent of the county’s residents were living in poverty. This program provided a solution—giving participants access to training and new jobs at no direct cost to them, allowing them to stay in their hometown and near their families. We feel it was so successful because our partners there took an active role.”
The Digital Works team worked in partnership with the Gallia County Economic Development Office. The organization’s staff took extra steps to spread the word about the program and identify participants.
“The Digital Works program has brought more jobs to our small community that we otherwise wouldn’t have,” Melissa Clark, Director, Gallia County Economic Development Office, said in 2015. “The program is connecting job seekers with gainful employment and is a positive boost for our local economy. Participant earnings are increasing each year, and I’m quite pleased with the progress.”
Since its launch in 2013, Digital Works has made a practice of tackling and finding solutions for some of the most difficult employment and workforce development issues. That includes addressing the needs of military spouses and veterans—which are seeing some of the highest unemployment numbers in the country. To address this issue, Digital Works launched a pilot program focused on military families in 2018 near Fort Knox, Kentucky.
“It was so successful that we have since launched a Fort Campbell location, and so far, have seen 98 percent job placement,” said Jessica Golson, Fort Campbell Facilitator, Digital Works. “I grew up in a military family and am now a military spouse myself, so I have experienced and witnessed how difficult it can be to find work each time you move. Not only is there a lag time that puts our military families in a bind financially, but sometimes companies are unwilling to take a chance on you because they know you’ll likely be moving again. Remote work is not only a solution for this problem because the job moves with them, but it provides a myriad of opportunities for our military spouses to grow their careers.”
The Fort Campbell location was launched just a month before COVID-19 closures began across the country. As a result, Digital Works staff had to be flexible to accommodate the needs of students—taking the program virtual and offering additional classes that include an abbreviated version of the training to help get more people to work more quickly.
“As many of us know, being home is essential right now with the schools being closed and the world in what seems like utter chaos, and I wanted to be able to work where I could be with my family,” said Kyah Moore, a Fort Campbell Digital Works graduate. “Digital Works was able to teach me interview skills and how to improve my résumé and cover letter, which helped me obtain a job in record time. In the past, I had struggled to even get to the interview point, and with the training and education I gained from this program, I had employment opportunities that I never dreamed were possible.”
As we set our sights on the end of 2020 and beyond, Digital Works is moving into new territory again—expanding its virtual offerings and, for the first time, taking the program outside the U.S.
“We are working with some innovators in New Zealand who are looking at new ways to help rural communities there,” said Pedersen. “They like what they’re seeing from the Digital Works program and the success we’ve had, so they’ve asked us to bring the training to their country. It’s just another example of how the staff at Digital Works is working hard to help more people—no matter where they live. All of us are looking to the future, and we look forward to celebrating our next 1,000 job placements.”