It was the summer of 2016 and Rodney Smith had been looking nearly four months for a new job. Ultimately, he figured he had two choices: remain in Owsley County and continue his job search locally, or move somewhere else where job prospects are more plentiful.
In the end, Smith says, his choice was pretty clear.
“I could have gone out of here to Lexington or somewhere and got some little job or something like that,” Smith says. “I didn’t want to take off and leave. I was determined to try to find something.”
While Smith decided to continue his search, the Owsley County Action Team in Booneville had begun working with the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, Inc. (EKCEP) to develop a new Teleworks USA hub in the county. Teleworks USA is an initiative of EKCEP and develops legitimate remote-work, distance learning opportunities. Through its system of hubs in Eastern Kentucky, prospective teleworkers can earn digital literary and customer service certifications, and receive assistance as they apply online for remote-work positions with a variety of companies.
At the time work was ongoing at the Booneville hub, Smith’s sister was a member of the Owsley County Action Team. She first told him about the opportunities Teleworks USA would represent for jobseekers like himself. And when she left the Action Team in 2016, Executive Director Molly Turner continued to keep him updated about the Booneville Hub’s progress.
The thought of working from home was appealing, Smith says, so as he heard more about the hub and Teleworks USA, he got a head start and developed his résumé and created a jobseeker account through the Teleworks USA website at www.teleworksusa.com.
“I was doing this in advance through the website,” Smith says. “I had so much of it already taken care of and ready to go, it was a really quick process.”
Just two days after submitting his résumé online, Smith says he filled out his first application for a customer service representative position with U-Haul. And it wasn’t long after that his job search finally came to a successful conclusion.
“I applied for U-Haul and got a call from them the next day,” he says. “They wanted to test my internet speed, and the following day after that, they offered me the job.”
Smith began three weeks of paid training with U-Haul, learning the details and responsibilities of his new position. He’d worked in customer service before, so his training went smoothly and he was ready to begin working.
As part of his new job, Smith schedules appointments for customers, handles some payments, and supplies customers with general knowledge about the services offered through his new employer. And though he’s working from home via a broadband connection, Smith is quick to note that his workday is structured much like any other job, whether it’s in an office, on a construction site, or traditional brick-and-mortar facility.
“A lot of people have the idea that working from home is set up like if you don’t have anything else to do, you go online for a couple of minutes,” Smith explains. “No, this is very structured. You’ve got your set time, you’ve got scheduled breaks and lunches. It’s a job.”
Because of the structured working environment U-Haul provides, Smith says there wasn’t a big adjustment to working from home as opposed to a job site. There is an added level of convenience, though, because he’s not required to drive anywhere or dress up for the job, but when his shift begins it’s easy to stay focused on the work.
“Until I get a break in between calls and I kind of step away and realize I’m right here at home, or when I log off for the day and don’t have an hour and half drive home, it’s very pleasant,” Smith adds. “I rate it above any other jobs that I’ve ever had.”
In addition to a steady income stream, Smith says his new position is also allowing him the opportunity to pursue other interests, including EMS training. And he adds that he’s happy to tell others about Teleworks USA and what the program can do to help people find new employment. He says a friend of his from Powell County recently visited the hub in Booneville, and with assistance from Hub Manager Carla Gabbard is now working in customer support for a major gaming company.
“Teleworks, as far as their importance in the role they played, it’s 10 out of 10,” Smith says. “This has opened doors for other things for me. Without this program, I would still be stuck here in the trenches.”
The Booneville Teleworks Hub features up to 30 workstations ready for teleworkers who may not have the appropriate equipment or internet connections to work from home. Teleworks USA also operates hubs in Annville, Beattyville, Harlan, Hazard, and Pike County
Seating for digital literacy and customer service workshops is limited, so interested jobseekers in Owsley and surrounding counties should make sure they contact Carla Gabbard at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call her at 606-438-5399.
EKCEP, a nonprofit workforce development agency headquartered in Hazard, Ky., serves the citizens of 23 Appalachian coalfield counties. The agency provides an array of workforce development services, administers the Hiring Our Miners Everyday (H.O.M.E.) program for dislocated coal miners and their spouses, and is the White House-designated lead organization for the federal TechHire designation for Eastern Kentucky. Learn more about us at http://www.ekcep.org, http://www.jobsight.org and http://www.facebook.com/ekcep.