While employers across our state are facing workforce development challenges, nowhere is the crisis more acute than in Greater Minnesota. Young people are leaving rural parts of the state in large numbers, often because they believe they must do so to get the education they need for a successful future.

A non-profit called Jobs for the Future (JFF) is working to change that. Based in Boston, JFF is partnering with community colleges and local economic, workforce and community-based organizations to assist rural regions in designing and implementing K-12-to-postsecondary pathways that will meet industry skill needs.

As JFF notes on its website,

From farmers and miners to technicians and marketers, the nature of work in rural America is changing. In regions where broadband internet is adequate and affordable, remote employment and telecommuting are gaining momentum in industries such as IT, health care, and sales and marketing.

In a recent report, Accelerating Opportunity in Rural Regions: Designing Pathways Programs for Adult and Other Non-Traditional Learners, JFF outlines how rural community colleges are evolving to take advantage of new education and employment opportunities made possible by technological advances.

For example, JFF

collaborate[s] with local agencies and community colleges to launch cutting-edge teaching and learning models that integrate on-the-job and classroom competencies that companies in the new economy are looking for. Contextualized, blended, and work-based learning models are helping enable the 11.2 million rural adults that reside in ‘education deserts’ to earn credentials and degrees via online courses and on-the-job work experiences.

The strategies JFF has used include the following:

For employers: Consider innovative strategies to engage the remote workforce and tap into rural talent pipelines more extensively. The growth of the “1099 economy” (independent contractors) and work-based learning for students are excellent opportunities to expose companies to the capabilities and creativity of nontraditional jobseekers.

For colleges: Design programs in such a way that rural learners are given opportunities to explore the new economy, especially by informing them of the variety of options for online learning and working. Millennials and young adults may need to develop the cognitive skills necessary to be successful in online learning and working environments.

For policymakers: Ensure that broadband internet is accessible and affordable, and that the importance of postsecondary training and education is elevated and prioritized in campaign platforms.

For everyone: Shift the narrative about rural America. Yes, there are challenges, but there are also opportunities to reap the benefits of rural living without sacrificing economic advancement.

JFF is having success with these and other strategies in southwest Alabama, inland agricultural regions of California, Kentucky, and other locations around the nation.



Accelerating Opportunity (AO) was a multi-year community college reform initiative developed and managed by JFF. AO focused on changes in policy, programs, and systems that would enable low-skilled adults to successfully advance from adult basic education to technical pathways in high-demand fields. Through AO, over 85 community colleges in 7 states built pathways that accelerated students to attain high-demand credentials by integrating basic skills instruction and technical education. JFF provided technical assistance and coaching tailored to states’ implementation plans. AO is a tested model with over 10,700 students earning 12,509 credentials and more than 96,000 college credits across 4 states. AO also increased the probability of earning a credential over the non-AO comparison student group by 19 percent in Kansas, 30 percent in Illinois, 133 percent in Kentucky, and 622 percent in Louisiana.

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