ST. GEORGE — Looking for ways to increase economic opportunity for struggling residents in rural parts of Utah, state officials are implementing a program to allow for more remote work opportunities over online platforms.
The “Rural Online Initiative” launches with a pilot program Oct. 1 in counties in the central and southern portions of the state, including Iron and Washington counties. The program is being implemented by Utah State University Extension to help residents in these counties develop the skills needed to compete for remote employment.
The initiative is the result of a bill designated as HB 327, which was sponsored by Southern Utah Rep. Michael Noel in the 2018 legislative session with lobbying assistance from Washington County Commissioner Victor Iverson. It was signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert earlier this year.
According to a press release issued by USU Extension, the initiative is the brainchild of Piute County Commissioner Darin Bushman, who represents one of the smallest, most poverty-stricken counties in Utah.
“I sat in my office posting a freelance job offer, and it hit me – why can’t our citizens, with skills to offer, be the ones doing this job rather than someone halfway around the world,” Bushman said in the press release. “Our local people can be the ones taking advantage of these online opportunities and marketing their skills outside the bounds of their current geography.”
Bushman consulted with USU Extension Vice President Ken White to formulate the idea for the program, intended to educate, coach, mentor and teach rural businesses and members of the workforce to take advantage of online opportunities.
“We also wanted to target high school students nearing graduation who were not pursuing higher education to avail them of the opportunities that exist online,” Bushman said, “which could help reduce the net migration from rural Utah counties.”
With a network of remote education sites already established throughout rural Utah, USU Extension will offer a new certificate course specifically developed to help people succeed as online freelance or remote employees.
“Completing the Master Remote Work Professional course and earning a certificate will prepare people to prosper in the new economy,” Paul Hill, USU Extension associate professor, said in the press release. “After meeting the skill requirements and earning their certificates, ROI clients will be assisted with job placement in partnership with Utah’s Department of Workforce Services.”
USU Extension has hired several program coordinators assigned to specific counties. In southwest Utah, Mike Sarles will serve as the program coordinator overseeing a team that will carry out the new program in Garfield, Kane, Piute, Washington and Iron counties.
“The team was assembled on Aug. 1 and we have been preparing content and materials necessary,” Sarles told St. George News. “We are in the last phases of development and almost ready to launch the pilot program.”
Sarles, a Brigham Young University graduate who has more than 20 years of experience in international business, sales and online marketing, said the program is targeted at people of all ages.
“High school students, college students, retirees and everyone in between can participate successfully,” he said. “Participants need to have basic technical literacy, access to a computer and broadband internet, previous work experience and knowledge-based work interest.
“Also it is important for remote workers to be able to work independently and be self-managing, have problem-solving skills, communicate frequently and clearly and have a strong work ethic.”
Sarles said he expects the program will help reduce unemployment, change attitudes regarding remote work opportunities, increase income and quality of life and retain community members, such as recent high school graduates, who want to continue living in rural Utah.
The remote work certificates offered by the program can lead to freelance work in various sectors, including the following industries:
- Information technology and web development
- Digital design
- Customer support
- Health care
Some potential job titles include email marketer, video editor, writer, web or graphic designer, translator, customer service agent and coder.
“Anyone with existing skills or that is willing to learn can participate in freelancing online,” Sarles said, adding that several opportunities for entrepreneurship can result from the certificates, including building online stores on Amazon, eBay, Etsy and other online platforms.
People who live in designated rural areas can apply for the course for free at the Remote Work Certificate website. While the program is intended for rural citizens, Sarles said people in more urban areas such as the St. George metropolitan area can also participate in the certification program for a small fee.
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