Learning to work from home

Teleworks is connecting Eastern Kentucky job seekers with “brand name” companies

Editor’s note: This story is the second in a series of articles that will highlight PRTC’s Smart Rural Community award from NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association.

An advisor answers a student’s question during a Teleworks USA class at the Jackson County Industrial Park.

An advisor answers a student’s question during a Teleworks USA class at the Jackson County Industrial Park.

Expectant mother Paige Adkins needed work, but she did not want to face a nearly 30-mile, one-way commute.

“The closest job I would have been able to find would have been in London,” says Adkins, who lives in Gray Hawk, Kentucky. “There are no jobs here at all.”

Free training provided through Teleworks USA, however, may prepare her for a job with one of the growing number of companies developing remote, Internet-connected workforces.

“We’ve had folks who are working with Sony, Apple, Amazon and U-Haul,” says Owen Grise, deputy director of the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program.

The classes, held at Jackson County Industrial Park and at the Kentucky Career Center JobSight in Hazard, Kentucky, are funded mostly through the U.S. Department of Labor.

The self-directed training usually requires four to six weeks. Afterward, employers recruit from the pool of certified candidates. “We have one employee in Eastern Kentucky working for a company in Paris, France,” Grise says.

Owen Grise helps oversee the Teleworks USA program in Jackson County as the deputy director of the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program.

Owen Grise helps oversee the Teleworks USA program in Jackson County as the deputy director of the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program.

Connecting workers to jobs
Teleworks was one of the first initiatives nationally to embrace the idea of training people in rural areas and connecting them with companies building remote workforces. In addition to training, the company manages a website to connect employers with job seekers.

Teleworks helped about 500 people secure jobs in just less than four years, Grise says.

Classes can accommodate about 15 people. Each trainee works through the program at his or her own pace. Certifications might require a testing fee, but qualified students can receive financial assistance.

Pay for an entry-level job is about $20,000 annually, and many jobs will include benefits, Grise says. For counties such as Jackson, the jobs can provide a welcome economic boost. “If we produce 15 people in a month or six weeks who can land those jobs, that’s $300,000 in wages, before taxes, that wasn’t in the county before,” Grise says.

Waiting lists exist for classes at both locations, Grise says.

Developing customer service skills
Adkins has worked since she was 16 years old. Most jobs were in customer service.

“I want to do good for people, and I want people to be happy with what they’re getting,” she says. “I know this will be good for me.”

She hopes a work-from-home job will allow her to stay employed while also preparing for her new baby.

“Classes are three days a week from 9 o’clock until noon,” she says. “We go through lessons each day. We watch videos explaining what good customer service is, and how to present yourself when doing customer service.”

Then, each lesson includes sample questions. Afterward, a quiz determines if each person passes a section. At the end of training, job seekers can earn certifications verifying their new skills.

Without the program, Adkins says she would find it difficult to pay for training. “I’ve been married almost two years, and we do good,” she says. “But, it would be hard to pay for schooling if we had to pay for it out of pocket. I feel very blessed.”

Paige Adkins works through an Internet-based lesson during the Teleworks USA training program.

Paige Adkins works through an Internet-based lesson during the Teleworks USA training program.

Business tools at home
Training, however, is only one part of succeeding at a work-from-home job. “It’s a different situation than most folks are used to,” Grise says.

Hurdles might include lack of a good computer, or coping with family and pets unaccustomed to someone working from home.

For a time, however, new employees might have the opportunity to work from the training center while they get their home office ready. “We can let them work here for a little while as they get their feet on the ground, a routine down and better understanding of the demands of the job,” Grise says.

While many work-from-home employees face a transition, quality Internet access is not a concern.

“One of the things about being here is that Jackson County is so well connected,” Grise says. “It’s an opportunity that many of them don’t realize they have.”

Peoples Rural Telephone Cooperative’s service area was designated a “Smart Rural Community” by NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association. NTCA developed the award as a way to recognize cooperatives that are promoting and using broadband networks to foster innovative economic development, education, health care and government services.

Changing business strategies
Introducing people to the idea of work-from-home jobs is key for Teleworks. “You have to convince them that this is real — it’s not a scam,” Grise says. “These companies will hire you, even though they’ve never seen you.”

Many national employers are “off-siting” part of their workforce. The move saves on office space, utilities and other costs associated with call centers, Grise says.

Employees connect through the Internet to a company’s servers. And despite the distance, employers can still track each worker.

Grise believes demand will continue to increase for employees who work from home. Soon, the concept will need little explanation.

“We’re raising a generation of people right now who can’t imagine being out of touch,” Grise says. “Those folks are going to grow up where it’s not at all a strange concept that they should know an employer only through a laptop.”

Learn more about Teleworks USA jobs: www.teleworksusa.com