The remote work economy is a new frontier for Eastern Kentucky.
The loss of our #1 job-creating industry sent our regional economy into decline. And the result left our workforce participation rate far below the national average.
Eastern Kentuckians have struggled to find local employment that matches their skills and experience. If they were laid off by coal or industries that relied on coal worker patronage, related opportunities have since dried up.
But the 21st-century economy offers new hope to our hardest-hit communities. Now that remote hiring is booming — and shows no signs of slowing down — we can tap into the abundant opportunities made possible by the internet.
KY PATH is a statewide effort that’s lifting up Eastern Kentucky communities. It’s going after a big picture vision: improving quality of life, workforce opportunities, education, and health outcomes. Part of that vision is addressing digital equity, and our region’s leaders are working hard to increase broadband access and affordability.
Once we achieve increased connectivity across Eastern Kentucky, there’s another problem we must solve: digital literacy. Residents with limited or no experience using the internet will need our help.
That’s why KY PATH coalition partners are planning to launch EKY Online!. This initiative will empower residents with the skills and confidence to access economic, health, and education needs online.
Find out how EKY Online! will help improve digital literacy in our region, why it’s important, and how you can get involved in your town or county.
Why we’re pursuing digital literacy and digital equity for Eastern Kentucky
Digital literacy comprises the skills and know-how to use digital resources effectively. It’s a building block of digital equity, which pursues fair and equal access to online resources.
Installing broadband — but ignoring digital literacy — doesn’t finish the job. It’s no good to provide access without education. And it could result in the hard-won grant dollars for our communities having less impact.
Our workforce participation rate could remain stagnant. Life-threatening but treatable health issues may persist. And students could continue falling behind in their studies without access to digital tools.
We must also provide digital literacy training as we expand connectivity via middle-mile, last-mile, and broadband affordability projects.
If we can help newly-connected residents make the most of their internet connections, their opportunities will increase exponentially.
They’ll be able to reach a more extensive network of medical providers via telehealth. Students and adult learners will gain access to online education and career training opportunities.
There is a proven connection between internet access and increased regional salaries. So perhaps digital literacy’s most significant benefit is that our unemployed and underemployed workforce will be a few clicks away from promising remote careers.
Digital literacy and remote work eligibility
Eligibility for remote careers is a bit different from in-person positions.
Remote employers will be looking for candidates with proven experience with the specialized tools and software that power remote worker productivity. We can’t take these skills for granted.
There’s an urgent need to build these capabilities among residents seeking remote employment. Check out SOAR’s recent blog posts on remote careers in sales, marketing, and HR and how to help increase candidates’ eligibility for these tracks.
These solutions will work best for residents with experience using the internet. But what about those who don’t?
The EKY Online! initiative: Teaching the fundamentals to achieve universal digital literacy
The EKY Online! Initiative is a one-stop shop for residents who want to improve their internet skills, especially if they’re starting from square one.
The initiative aims to help people use the internet for work, health, education, social connection, and quality of life needs.
KY PATH based EKY Online! on an existing program with proven results. Utah State University’s Rural Online Initiative identified that 10 out of 15 participating counties saw a decline in their unemployment rates after program completion.
EKY Online! offers remote worker certification via an online course. Residents will be able to take the course at home. Or, if they prefer, they can attend from a UK Extension office, which has physical locations in every Eastern Kentucky county.
The best part? It’ll be free for anyone who wants to get involved.
Those who successfully graduate may be eligible to continue their digital upskilling journey. The Appalachian Digital Training Center is another project associated with KY PATH that’ll help residents level up their eligibility for advanced careers.
Target outcomes for digital literacy investments
EKY Online! has big goals for our communities. Consider digital literacy a stepping stone toward Eastern Kentucky’s greatest needs.
Since digital literacy creates the skills necessary for workers to earn remote positions, it’s reasonable to connect digital literacy with increased workforce participation.
Also, the collapse of coal illustrated the fragility of a regional economy that relied on one industry. Digital literacy will help support economic diversification — spreading out our sources of productivity across many sources — to reduce the risk of such a collapse happening again.
As these outcomes transform our day-to-day lives in Eastern Kentucky, we may also be able to slow or stop the rate of population loss. That will come with its own benefits, including better-funded public schools, increased quality of life, and stronger communities.
Our residents should feel empowered to participate in economic, social, and civic activities, most of which are available online today.
Confidence is not just a mindset — it’s also a skill set. EKY Online! will do its part to help residents gain the capabilities, self-sufficiency, and empowerment and support healthier, happier lives.
Conclusion: Support digital literacy in EKY
Supporting digital literacy in Eastern Kentucky can be an easy task. All you have to do is help residents get connected with the digital training opportunities available to them.
You can promote upcoming opportunities like EKY Online! and the Appalachian Digital Training Center and encourage them to get involved. These will all be free and open to the public.
To learn more about KY PATH, check out our program website. We’re securing a bright future for Eastern Kentucky by transforming our region into an agritech hub, training locals for advanced careers, and investing in community placemaking.
Contact SOAR for more ideas on how to support digital literacy in your town or county.