By Christy Montgomery, Senior Analyst, Maher & Maher
Rural grantees often find it particularly challenging to improve their programs. While they attend conferences, participate on best practice calls, and review case study toolkits to find models they can adapt, they often don’t have the budget or community resources to implement them. The grant project team is often only a few people across scattered organizations. What do you do when you find yourself in this situation? You develop phenomenal skills in self-advocacy and you fight for what you need!
Bill Canuette of James Sprunt Community College is one of the most effective self-advocates in a rural area we’ve seen so far in the TechHire program. The beauty of his self-advocacy is he fights for what the project and his institution need, at the same time, he is advocating for his peers who are having a similar experience. Canuette joined a recent peer learning group call to with other TechHire grantees from rural areas; he and others discussed what is working well and current challenges in their communities.
So what did we hear?
- Broadband Access: In several of these communities up to 60% of the population does not have access to high-speed broadband internet.
- Workforce System Partnerships: Turnover among case management staff at a local one-stop can greatly impact a program’s ability to engage participants across multiple counties and can pose partnership challenges.
- Recruitment: Grantees need diverse recruitment strategies to engage the pool of program participants they need.
- Leveraging Participant Contributions: Grantees are looking for ways to get their students involved in promoting, marketing, and designing TechHire programs.
- Serving a Large Geography: Grantees would like strategies to provide effective transportation support and to design programs for students across wide geographic areas (e.g., through shifts in class times, distance learning opportunities, and developing student cohorts).
What is Working?
- Broadband: A lack of reliable internet can be an issue. Some grantees have adopted flexible scheduling for courses which center around one lab that has a set schedule.
- Partnerships: Partnerships do not work when the collaboration is based only solely on the funding. Grantees encouraged their peers to engage partners with a common mission and show them how collaboration can help them meet their goals.
- Engaging Business: TechHire grantee BridgeValley Community & Technical College invites business to Lunch and Learn opportunities in which the college shares information about the program and highlights how business can support these efforts. In some cases, students bring resumes and practice interview skills with business leaders.
- One solution is to work with local public transportation to arrange for additional pick-up sites for students. It’s a win-win for the community college and local transportation, which benefits from higher ridership.
- Another is to move classes to community organizations to help provide greater access to classes.
- Student Cohorts: Older workers and other participants often learn better in group settings with peer support. Several programs have worked to facilitate group learning and lab space at local libraries and other community spaces where students have peer support to complement online learning.
What Are We Still Trying to Figure Out?
- Grantees noted that they often do not have access to large IT companies and are interested in learning how to work closely with small companies. They are also trying to get better buy-in from local workforce boards. Please share your insights on these issues with other grantees here.
If you’re a rural grantee and want to share your own successes or best practices, share your story with your fellow grantees here.