It’s Time to Buck Tradition: How Digital Works Can Revitalize Communities

The traditional 9-to-5 job still exists, but it’s becoming less and less common. According to recent research from economists from Harvard and Princeton, 94% of net job growth in the United States over the last decade has been from “alternative work.” The only problem—few groups are training people for it.

Digital Works Vice President, Stu Johnson.

“Ninety percent of jobs created since 2010 are nontraditional jobs. These are freelance or what they call gig-type positions. Many are online and require specific skill sets that companies need,” said Stu Johnson, Vice President of Digital Works (pictured right). “But yet our educational and workforce systems are not agile and adaptive enough to train people for the needs that are specific to today’s job market. Digital Works fills that role. Historically, we invested in education that we could amortize over the length of a lifetime career. The workforce of today requires a lifetime of learning, realizing that the career you have today might not exist tomorrow while tomorrow’s job likely doesn’t even exist today.”

But many communities—both urban and rural—are slow to respond. Many economic developers are only looking at traditional economic growth efforts. In other words, they’re focused solely on getting companies to locate in their area.

“The bottom line is that just building a plant or improving a building so a business will move to your town is not where the economy is going,” Johnson said. “It’s hard for traditional workforce groups to adapt to this new approach—that investing in programs that can train residents to fill these jobs, even if they are located elsewhere, means they’ll be working from home or even an internet-ready facility in their community and contributing to their economic growth locally.”

How Digital Works is Filling the Jobs of the Future
As of early December 2017, the Digital Works program had placed 852 people in jobs that required specific online-related training. Connected Nation, which seeks to expand broadband to all people, established the program when the nonprofit noticed many urban and rural communities lacked digital literacy training.

One of the best trainers Connected Nation has is Tammy Spring (pictured left, in center, holding sign), who works out of Columbus, Ohio, and trains and supports others leading Digital Works classes across the country—from Michigan to New Mexico.

Digital Works also partners with more than 70 employers across the country to understand what skillsets they need from new employees. This makes it possible for staff to not only tailor training to the jobs that are out there but to grow relationships with employers and a reputation for providing important training that’s not being done elsewhere.

“The hardship is knowing that we have something that is good and effective, but we can’t offer it in a community unless there is funding,” Spring said. “If communities fund our program and follow its guidelines, then the number of people this can help is incredible. The training can be used to provide supplemental income if someone has a short-term need like medical bills or it can become a full time job. That’s the thing with Digital Works—there are so many opportunities for economic growth when communities embrace and fund it properly.”

And It Costs Communities Less

One of the early class workshops in Newago, MI

“If we create just 5 to 6 jobs a month, that’s more than 70 jobs yearly, at about $4,000 per placement,” Johnson said. “But with each new student committed to the program the “cost-per-placement” goes down. Also, many communities find other ways to offset the cost of using Digital Works.”

Newaygo, Michigan is a great example of this. The small town had a facility that was internet-ready and sitting in the downtown area mostly unused.

“The classes there are supported by curriculum and training provided by Digital Works, but the trainer’s salary and the facility’s rent and maintenance are handled directly by Newaygo,” Johnson explained. “It not only gives the students a place for the classes but also a place to apply for jobs and even work online once employed.”

However a community decides to partner with Digital Works the overall cost is much less than traditional job creation, and workers are often in the local workforce, contributing to the tax base within 6-8 weeks after beginning classes.

Looking Forward to 2018

Some of the first graduates from our Las Vegas, NM class site which was set up in mid-2017

Spring said Digital Works has a lot in the works for the New Year. She said program staff is currently working on incorporating some one-week, intensive training boot camps in Ohio.

“We’re also looking at new ways to implement Digital Works,” she added. “From helping those who have been incarcerated and would have a better chance getting a job if they could work online to military spouses who may have to move without warning and need a job they can perform from anywhere. We also would like to move into more communities and help train and place more people. The only thing holding us back is funding.”

Not only can the program help communities grow economically but it also provides a service for some within the population who are often overlooked including single parents, veterans and active military, individuals with differing abilities or mobility challenges, retirees who want or need to contribute to the workforce again, or people who are simply facing a temporary financial struggle.

igital Works is looking for more partners—both employers and communities— who want to tap into the potential of the growing online and gig market. To contact us, head to or contact Connected Nation at

“We have a 100% placement rate with those who stick to the program. Some positions are easier to fill than others, but our staff will not quit until a graduate is placed. If you truly want a job doing online work, we can help you train for it and get it,” Johnson said. “We know that employers need skilled workers but can’t find them, and there are people who need a job but can’t find them. We bridge that gap.”

Related Links:
Digitals Works: Meet Some of Our Graduates
NBC News: Report on Harvard, Princeton Report
Wall Street Journal: Contract Workforce Outpaces Growth in Silicon-Valley ‘Gig’ Jobs
Upwork: Within a decade it’s predicted that a majority of U.S. workers will freelance
The Brookings Institute: Tracking the Gig Economy



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