How Freelancing And Other Remote Work Will Help Save Rural Life
CareersI write about the freelance revolution and the future workforce.
From the Washington Post, November 23, 2018:
“Tulsa is aiming to attract people by offering those who work remotely and entrepreneurs $10,000 to move there. If they agree to stay for at least one year, the workers will receive cash that includes rent subsidies and stipends.”
According to Forbes, Tulsa is competing with the state of Vermont, among others:
“Now, Vermont wants a piece of the action . . . Governor Phil Scott just approved a piece of legislation that will pay 100 people up to $10,000 to move to Vermont in 2019 with the new ‘Remote Worker Grant Program.'”
While Tulsa and Vermont are focused on utilizing remote work to increase their population, the State of Utah has taken a different approach. Working together, state and county representatives across the state have fashioned a smart and innovative approach to providing residents of rural Utah with the remote work skills they need to stay in their communities and enjoy their satisfying and economically attractive lives.
Utah is taking advantage of a technological wave that connects skilled workers with work, and increasingly enables people to work from anywhere as freelancers, entrepreneurs, or employees. And, they are not alone by any means. Gallup found that over half of U.S. employees report working remotely for at least 40% of their time. Gallup also reported an increase in remote work across almost all industries and professions.
Piute County’s Commissioner, Darin Bushman, is the creator of the idea behind The Rural Online Initiative (ROI). As he put it, “We’re a very small population, only 1,500 people. But while small in numbers, we have a lot of talent, people with advanced degrees and professional experience who would do great things if they were able to work remotely. After all, our state hires people from Bangladesh to do research for us, why not Piute County?”
Bushman was able to sell his vision to the Utah legislature, who gave them three years of funding to get several initial changes going. With that funding they were able to: (a) enlist Utah State University Extension, the state’s land grant university, to administer the funding and provide education for residents to develop remote work skills (e.g., video conferencing, digital communication, time management),(b) provide services to platforms, like Pluralsight and Skillshare, that provide education for learning technical skills—graphic design, video editing, and coding skills, and (c) build relationships with several digital talent marketplaces–Freelance.com, Fiverr.com, Upwork.com and others – to source remote freelance opportunity,
As Trenton Willson, Program Coordinator for Utah State’s Extension’s Rural Online Initiative (ROI) team put it, “Utah has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. What we’re doing in Utah has big implications for the rest of the state and for other states with underserved rural populations.”
What can other states and countries learn from the Utah experience:
- It takes a champion with a vision of what’s possible. Commissioner Bushman was able to sell his vision to the state legislature, and gain the initial funding needed to test the concept. But, it wasn’t easy, and it took a good deal of political capital to build the support needed to gain that initial funding.
- Build critical stakeholder relationships. The expression “success has a hundred fathers and mothers,” is certainly apt. It took legislative sponsors to sell the Utah legislature, the help of digital talent marketplaces, the support of commissioners from county governments, and the help of Utah StateUniversity Extension to provide critical skill building, and external experts to help show the way.
- Seek help from the experts. It also took expertise to plan the initiative. Laurel Farrer, a remote work expert, collaborated with Utah State University Extension and the Rural Online Initiative team in developing the details of the plan: the strategy, job descriptions, communication to county residents, and even marketing to potential commercial partners.
- Set achievable goals. ROI had the goal of putting 50 people ‘through the funnel’ of the program by the end of 2018. In their initial cohort, they had 68 people apply and 45 participate in the course. Since the inception of the program, they have had over 250 applicants total, and over 60 participating in their second cohort with additional classes set to begin in December and January.
What’s the future of the Rural Online Initiative? The program is attracting strong interest from rural counties across Utah. Several innovations to reach and train new workers and employers will be introduced in 2019. For example, Utah State is developing certifications that, when earned by participants, demonstrate proficiency.
With 16% of the United States population living in rural areas, this is an initiative that should be attractive to many states. Consider this: despite the economic progress being made across the U.S., rural people and rural youth in particular are too often left behind. For example, PBS recently reported that over 20% of rural youth lack real economic and vocational opportunity. This is an innovation that needs to be understood, studied, and applied way beyond Utah.
Jon Younger authored Agile Talent, HR From the Outside In and HR Transformation, among other books and articles in several publications and his blog “Freelance Revolution.”