New remote work certificate program strengthens rural vitality

Okanogan County resident Justine Salazar landed a state agency job, without leaving her community. She is one of the first in Washington to complete the new Remote Work Certificate program.

“I really believe because of this program, it gave me a leg up,” said Salazar, who started work for the Washington State Employment Security Department from the comfort of her own home.

Taking a new approach to rural economic development, instead of attracting new employers, the Washington Rural Online Initiative works in partnership with communities to create economic opportunity by developing an untapped rural workforce.

The initiative makes it easy and affordable (just $299) for those who live in rural communities to complete a four-week online course to receive a Remote Work Certificate. The Certificate helps rural community members compete for remote jobs in the post-pandemic economy. Employers across Washington are searching for workers and rural communities are a source of much-needed talent.

Washington State University Extension and the Association of Washington Business (AWB) Institute are partnering with Utah State University Extension to offer the Remote Work Certificate to Washington residents to prepare them to take advantage of remote work opportunities.

“When COVID hit, my business went away and I thought, what am I going to do next?” explained Colville resident Lisa Baron-Warner, who spent 18 years as a travel agent. “The Remote Work Certificate Program gave me the skills and discipline to succeed in a virtual work environment.”

The month-long educational program is designed to equip workers with the tools and skills they need to transition from on-site work into a virtual career and become an effective remote employee, entrepreneur or freelancer. The program consists of nine core modules: workday, communication, workflow, productivity and time management, teams, compliance, critical thinking, build your virtual career and remote job development. Students receive assistance with strategies to execute a successful job search.

The AWB Institute is actively seeking partnerships with organizations in local communities and counties interested in taking advantage of this economic development opportunity. Organizers are also seeking partnerships with employers interested in hiring Remote Work Certificate graduates. Enrollment is open now for students interested in the next Remote Work Certificate cohort that begins January 4.

“Remote work isn’t unique to Washington, of course, but new Census data shows we’re well positioned to benefit from its growth,” said AWB President Kris Johnson. “Washington’s rural population grew 9.4 percent from 2010 to 2020, according to recently released Census data. That’s less than the 14.7 percent growth in Washington’s urban areas, but a significant contrast with a national decline of 0.5 percent in rural population.

Rural Washington is already growing. Expanding remote work will help fuel continued growth and ensure increased prosperity in these communities.”

The Avista Foundation donated $150,000 to the AWB Institute to help revitalize rural Washington communities. The funds will support the Washington Rural Online Initiative and the Remote Work Certificate program.

A portion of the donation will provide funds to help remove barriers for students in Avista’s service territory. The remaining balance will help cover program and curriculum development, marketing, staffing and coaching for participants to find employment.

“Like many employers, the pandemic has taught us that we could successfully run our business with a segment of our employees working remotely. It was a huge ‘aha’ moment for us,” explained Avista CEO Dennis Vermillion. “As we work to rebuild our economy, we know that remote work – or some hybrid model – will be a part of our ‘new normal’. That’s why Avista is so excited to provide financial support as we partner with the AWB Institute and others to launch the Washington Rural Online Initiative.”

In 2021, Avista awarded more than $2.4 million in philanthropic giving across our five-state service territory to help people in need. Grant applications for Health and Human Services proposals will be accepted January 1 – February 1, 2022.

Visit Avista Foundation for grant application information.

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