Overcoming Digital Barriers in Rural Ohio – Donna’s Story

We know that today’s workforce requires an understanding of digital tools. But what happens when a person does not have access to them or resources that improve their digital skills?

This is the case for many older adults living in rural areas across Ohio. At Vantage, it’s our mission to ensure that all older job seekers are part of the Digital Inclusion movement and have access to these skillsets and devices. We provide the tools and training they need to be successful in today’s workforce and reach their career goals.

To get a better understanding of what it’s like to be an older job seeker learning digital skills in rural Ohio, meet Donna. Donna participates in Vantage’s Senior Community Service Employment Program and is enrolled in the Digital Inclusion program. She is building her skills and confidence through hands-on training and one-on-one coaching.

Enrolling in SCSEP for hands-on job training

Donna retired from Walmart in 2016. After one and a half years of enjoying retirement, Donna realized that she wanted to be able to contribute more to her community, so she started looking for ways to do that.

“After retirement, you go through this period of time where you do what you want to do,” said Donna. “Well, I did what I wanted to do and then I needed to get out into the world again.”

Donna started with some volunteer work. Then, she saw a flyer for Vantage’s SCSEP program at a local post office. It took her a while to get up her nerves to call, but she was determined to learn something new to help her find a job that she truly enjoyed.

Funded by the Department of Labor and Ohio Department of Aging, SCSEP provides paid, hands-on training to job seekers age 55 and older who are trying to re-enter the workforce.

Vantage provides the SCSEP program in 38 Ohio counties to hundreds of older job seekers each year. By empowering older adults with the skills and confidence they need to reach their career goals, the program contributes to healthier local economies and more independent, self-sufficient community members across the state.

Donna’s first SCSEP training site was a food pantry in West Union. She later transferred to a different training site in Manchester, Ohio that was more appropriate for increasing skills and that matched her career goals.

At her training site, the Manchester Housing Authority, Donna has mastered answering and transferring phone calls, answering questions from clients, filing, and sorting incoming mail and checks. After gaining some exposure to computers at her training site, Donna enthusiastically enrolled in Vantage Aging’s digital inclusion training program.

Challenges of rural Ohio and digital inclusion

Donna quickly learned that having access to a laptop computer at home through the Digital Inclusion program was very beneficial. She lives in Bentonville, Ohio, and describes it as a pass-through town populated with mostly older adults and families. Bentonville currently has a population of 237.

One of the challenges of living in southern, rural Ohio is access to a good internet connection and digital tools. Within nearly the past decade, Donna’s area gained access to broadband. She says that her house was the first to have wireless phones, and they had a lot of trouble with a connection initially.

To help job seekers like Donna, Vantage’s Digital Inclusion program improves digital access and computer competencies of older Ohioans through access to digital devices and personalized, one-on-one coaching sessions from trained digital navigators in partnership with the Ohio Department of Aging.

Digital training modules provide a basic skill set that helps older job seekers be more competitive in today’s market. Some of the skill-tested certifications available include Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint), Google Docs, navigating the internet, email etiquette, career searching, and social media. By having these skillsets as a foundation, employers can more easily train candidates on the specific digital tools they use at their businesses.

Before the Digital Inclusion program, Donna had to travel to the library several miles from her home to use a computer. Taking the extra time to get there and back was incredibly inconvenient.

Donna had little experience with digital tools before the Digital Inclusion program. She took some computer lessons but didn’t have anywhere to practice them after the class. Because she didn’t have a computer at home, her new skills fell by the wayside. Vantage’s digital inclusion program helps Donna keep up with digital learning and continue to grow her skill set.

“It’s nice to sit down anytime I want to and work on the laptop as long as I want,” said Donna. “I’m able to look up things that I need answers to easily without having to leave my home.”

Individual learning with a Digital Navigator

Donna preferred the Digital Inclusion program’s one-on-one experience over being in a big classroom.

“I wouldn’t have asked any questions in a class setting because there would be so many people in there,” said Donna. “My Digital Navigator was there for me and only me. She wouldn’t let me get away with anything and even changed my mind about learning computer skills and how helpful they are in so many aspects of life.”

Donna does not think she would have the same outcomes without Vantage’s SCSEP program. The Digital Inclusion program provided her with the hands-on approach she needed to develop her skills.

“Sometimes, people just do stuff for me and don’t explain the steps when I’m trying to learn,” said Donna. “The Digital Navigator at Vantage guided me and let me do it myself so when she wasn’t there, I still felt confident in what I was doing.”

Finding success and confidence

Donna is most proud of the scores she earned on the digital learning modules.

“At first, I didn’t think I could do it,” said Donna. “Each score reaffirmed that I did this myself and no one could do it for me.”

Donna saw great success in the Digital Inclusion program. She increased her Excel scores by a whopping 70%, going from 30% in the beginning to 100% scores on completion. Her average skill-mastery score increase in over the course of the program was 40 percent!

“It’s amazing to discover the magic of it,” said Donna. “The program really helped me understand that I don’t need to be afraid of the computer. I can do this.”

Applying new skills to new opportunities

Today, in addition to training in the SCSEP program, Donna volunteers at a church and helps them digitally manage their finances. She continues to access Vantage’s training tools to create Excel spreadsheets and track funds.

Donna’s goal is to find a receptionist job that keeps her engaged with people. She wants to help connect others to the resources they need and continue to learn more skills.
“I feel more confident about talking to people now,” said Donna. “I just want to help someone, and I know that I can do that with these new skills.”

She has gained a new confidence that will only help her continue learning on her pathway to a new career.

“Vantage’s SCSEP program has helped prepare me to get a job,” said Donna. “I have gained more confidence and I’m not as timid as I was because the Digital Navigator team was so supportive and encouraging. I am not saying that I can’t do it anymore.”

Advice to other older adults

Donna knows that it is scary to jump into digital learning, but she encourages other older adults to embrace today’s technology with the help of Vantage’s Digital Inclusion program.

“Vantage will help you get out of the scariness. They build your confidence up,” said Donna. “The program teaches you a new trade that you can go and apply to a new job.”

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