The following article was published by TechRepublic on May 25, 2020.
Connected Nation’s first mission was to bring broadband to rural communities. Along the way the organization also built a training program designed for the all-online work world of the coronavirus. Digital Works is a short course that was designed for military spouses. The focus is telework, namely call center jobs.
The program started at Fort Campbell, KY, and helps graduates find a job when courses are complete. Almost 1,000 people have completed the program since its launch in 2013. People took in-person classes at two locations in Kentucky before the coronavirus pushed the sessions online.
Jessica Golson, a Digital Works facilitator, said that even before the pandemic, remote opportunities were popping up in new industries every year. Since the COVID-19 shutdowns started all over the world, many organizations have had to convert to telework options just to keep their doors open.
“Small businesses are now more present in the virtual world than ever before, and larger industries have converted their entire business plan to focus on online ordering and processing of services,” she said.
She added that Connected Nation has spent the last seven years building relationships with telework employers.
“These relationships have given us a leg up on recognizing the industries that are most often hiring and where potential employees have the best opportunities for growth,” she said.
Kyah Moore, a Digital Works graduate, said that the course introduced her to virtual classrooms and helped her feel more comfortable in videoconference chats. She said that the two-week course has helped her secure a better future for herself and her family.
“I was able to find a job only a few days after graduating, with a company I would never have expected to hire me,” she said.
Digital Works trains students on communication skills, customer-centered training, typing and transcription practice, mock sales sessions as well as resume and interview assistance. In response to COVID-19, Digital Works offered online classes for free to military spouses, veterans, and spouses of veterans living in Kentucky.
Golson said that when Digital Works transitioned to an all-online format during the coronavirus lockdown, instructors had to figure out how to build connections among students in a virtual setting.
“In a classroom setting, students are able to interact with each other as well as the facilitator to establish solid connections, thereby encouraging them to continue to show up for class and participate while building a level of trust in the program,” she said. “In an online setting, there is a potential for that interaction and commitment to fade or be lost altogether if not handled properly.”
The Digital Works team has redesigned the curriculum to stimulate interaction among students and build a sense of community and facilitators are available for one-on-one calls as needed.
Digital Works is funded by grants and private donors that cover the $3,600 cost per student. The Fort Campbell classes are supported through a contract with the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet and additional funding from the Department of Veterans Affairs and AT&T.
After enrolling online, students receive an email with an orientation video that explains program requirements, benefits, demands, and format.
Golson said that the Digital Works program in Fort Campbell works with other local training programs designed for military spouses.
Connected Nation launched Digital Works: Connecting People and Jobs in 2013. By 2017, the program had expanded to six states and placed 800 graduates in new jobs. Connected Nation’s main mission is to bring broadband to rural communities and close the digital divide.