Kentucky is a leader in middle-mile broadband, thanks to Congressman Hal Rogers’ and Governor Andy Beshear’s leadership and support of the KentuckyWired Project. From here, our efforts must continue forward to bring last-mile, high-speed access to all our residents.
Just 54% of Kentuckians have access to 1-gigabit broadband today. Many of our residents still lack access to adequate connection speeds that power today’s most relevant uses of the internet — working remotely, accessing telehealth, and e-learning.
But we can’t stop with only installing last-mile broadband.
It’s up to us to train our residents in critical digital skills so they can make full use of internet-enabled resources.
This idea has a lot of support — and funding — available right now. State and federal policymakers recognize the importance of digital equity in areas traditionally without access to high-speed broadband. And they’re ready and willing to help close the gap.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will provide $2.75 billion for digital equity training in regions like Eastern Kentucky. This is something local community leaders should be planning to take advantage of for our residents’ benefit.
We firmly believe in the connection between digital equity and economic opportunity.
Our region’s employment rate is also among the lowest in the US. Across SOAR’s 54 counties in Eastern Kentucky, workforce participation is 47% — compared to 63% across the entire nation.
Achieving digital equity for Eastern Kentucky residents will help our people compete for jobs and access the gainful opportunities available to remote workers.
It will help reverse the trend of population loss, increase our employment rate, and possibly attract new residents, too.
What is digital equity, and why does it matter?
The nature of work is changing.
While remote work existed before the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s now a permanent fixture in today’s workforce. Even as some organizations issue a return-to-office mandate, 25% of jobs in 2022 will be permanently remote.
For Eastern Kentucky residents, this means they no longer have to leave home in search of economic opportunity. Thousands of remote jobs are available at any given moment across industries, levels, skills, and training.
But to qualify for remote jobs, our residents have to be competent internet users. Digital literacy is a major goal of digital equity.
Digital equity translates to fair access to digital resources and skills, whether or not you live in a dense urban area.
Once you have reliable broadband in your community, digital literacy refers to a user’s ability to take full advantage of online resources and tools.
You can achieve digital equity for your community by facilitating training for leading software and hard skills employers look for in job applicants.
More of our residents can become highly-qualified applicants for high-paying remote jobs if we do.
More people won’t face the heartbreaking decision to leave home to seek career opportunities. Instead, they can stay, earn a respectable living, and contribute to rebuilding our regional economy.
Digital skills that modern job applicants need
Job applicants need to show competence in software and workplace operations to be eligible for many remote jobs.
We’ve rounded up the leading digital skills and software that today’s remote workers should be familiar with:
- Job applicant skills: To earn a remote job, our residents have to know how to create a standout resume and cover letter. They’ll also need help with interview skills and the process of negotiating salary and benefits.
- Workplace operations: Fluency with productivity software is essential for all remote workers. There will be an expectation of familiarity with commonly-used platforms:
- Email — Gmail, Outlook
- Workplace chat — Teams, Slack
- Online conference software — Google Meet, Zoom, Teams
- Word processing — Microsoft Word, Google Docs
- Spreadsheets — Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets
- Project management — Asana, Basecamp
- Specialized software: Remote work applicants stand out if they offer specialized software skills. Also, technical software skills increase one’s eligibility for higher-paying jobs and the chances of upward mobility. Each of these platforms aligns with a career path — marketing, accounting, sales, administration, or operations:
- Customer relationship management (CRM) software — Salesforce, Hubspot
- Marketing automation software — Hubspot, Marketo, Pardot
- Digital marketing platforms — Google Analytics, Google AdWords, Meta Business Suite
- Payroll Software — QBO, ADP, Gusto
- Workplace productivity — Sharepoint, Dropbox, Google Drive
Digital training spotlight: Securing a Sales Development Representative position
A sales development representative (SDR) is a critical position in growing organizations. SDRs support the sales process by providing the first point of contact to potential customers.
The current average salary for SDRs nationwide is $49,842 with a potential average bonus of $24,432. That’s $75,274 a year.
SDRs who succeed in their fields often go on to become account managers or even sales directors.
Many leading organizations work with Salesforce as their CRM platform. Eligibility for the most competitive SDR positions often includes having experience with Salesforce.
Find out for yourself. Take a look at the SOAR Remote Work Job Board. When we published this blog post, there were 6 SDR positions available within the last 8 days. Each listing indicated that CRM experience would be either preferred or required.
Salesforce Trailhead is a free resource for career changers who know they need CRM skills for their next position. You can leverage this resource to host a Salesforce training for your residents, which will allow them to add relevant experience to their resumes.
How to provide digital training for Eastern Kentucky residents
- Contact your local community college. Find out if they’re already offering trainings related to the hard skills and specialized software discussed above. If they aren’t, explore opportunities to partner together.
- Research training content for today’s most relevant software and digital skills. Free providers include LinkedIn Learning, Trailhead, and Hubspot Academy. You can use their curriculum as a starting point and work through the courses in small groups.
- Form a digital skills center. A digital skills training program represents an opportunity to convene your community in a central, downtown area. Hosting your training in one location makes them more marketable and could help boost turnout.
- Prepare to apply for grants. The Digital Equity Act of 2021 established an annual $125 million competitive grant program. Applicants will need to propose projects that support digital literacy, inclusion, and competitiveness. Find out if your project is eligible and prepare a competitive application by reaching out to SOAR.
Conclusion: We can achieve digital equity in Eastern Kentucky
SOAR is committed to fostering digital equity in our 54 Eastern Kentucky counties. Our communities need their leaders to step up and help close the digital divide.
Visit the SOAR Remote Jobs Board to explore opportunities available to qualified applicants today.
Reach out to your SOAR representative for advice on preparing and applying for grants to support digital equity in our region.