Online Remote Training in Rural Utah

In this episode of San Juan Now, Elaine and Ben are joined by special guest Jordan Leonard with the Rural Online Initiative. He talks about how his organization is bringing essential job training to those living in rural areas of Utah, with the goal of them being able to work remotely while living in San Juan County. He shares his experience watching students go through the program, and Elaine shares what it was like to be a student and receive a certificate.


Elaine Gizler: [00:00:03] You are listening to San Juan Now, part of the Destination Marketing Podcast Network.

Ben Neilson: [00:00:10] Hello and welcome to San Juan Now. I’m your co-host Ben Neilson.

Elaine Gizler: [00:00:15] I am your other co-host, Elaine Gizler. Today, we are pleased to have Jordan Leonard with us. Jordan is the program coordinator at the Eastern Region of Utah State University Extension for the Rural Online initiative. We are happy to talk to Jordan today and are thrilled that you are here to give an overview of this amazing program that is an opportunity for so many people.

Jordan Leonard: [00:00:40] Thank you, very happy to be here.

Ben Neilson: [00:00:42] Thanks Jordan. We’re looking forward to what you have to share with us about your program. To start off, will you explain a little bit to us about the Rural Online Initiative and what it is?

Jordan Leonard: [00:00:54] Sure. So the Rural Online Initiative is a focus for rural communities to find economic opportunities. Our mission and our vision, we are looking to educate and help provide experiences for locals to improve themselves. We love to connect people to modern employment opportunities, and we develop innovative solutions for community’s needs. In rural Utah, there are only so many economic opportunities and our program opens the door to people that have skill sets that are looking to generate income. We help tap them into education and then other resources to help them gain employment. Our vision is- it’s kind of twofold.

Our goal is to help improve the overall income of each resident in our rural communities and then there’s the education side. Our goal is to help connect our students with high-paying jobs, as well as freelance jobs and entrepreneurship. We have three different tracks that we take our students through, depending on their skill set, their interest and things like that. We coach, we mentor. At the end of the class, we have a personal visit with each of our students to talk about their goals. What skill sets do they have, what opportunities or experiences they’ve had in the past. We try to really dig deep, connect and give them opportunities that they didn’t even think possible.

The Rural Online Initiative is a fantastic program to open the eyes to the global economy and what’s out there. We have had some fantastic success stories. Anything you can do from a computer, you can do online and make money for it; virtual assisting, healthcare, e-commerce. We really try and help our students understand the global economy through e-commerce, entrepreneurship, and freelance work. Our goal is to help connect them with their skill sets and visit with them on what could help them become successful. 

Elaine Gizler: [00:03:13] Well this is great Jordan. Can you tell us what success stories have you had from the program?

Jordan Leonard: [00:03:20] Love this question. A couple that come to mind, we had a gentleman that- he had a little trouble with the law. He was able to take our class. We went through the class. We visited him. He was discouraged about, “Hey, I’ve cleaned up my life. There’s a couple of things on my record.” And as we went through the class, he gained some confidence. We talked about his skills. He loved technology. He loved technology, he loved troubleshooting. He loved everything about-he just had a lot of experience with computer-type work. We were able to communicate with him and communicate with some employers. 

He was able to find a full-time position. He would troubleshoot for computer programs. A lot of that work, if you do it from home, sometimes these companies will say, “Hey, we’re okay not to do a background check. We trust you to do a job” and on site that is one with people that struggle or have had a background. Remote work is a possibility for people that may have something on their record or background checks, things like that.

The other ones, we have a lot of stay-at-home moms that take our class. They are educated. They just want to stay home with the kids, but they need a little bit of extra income to get through. We’ve had a couple stay at home moms work for companies like Health Equity where they can do customer service. We also have virtual assisting, like I mentioned a little earlier. We have a lot of our students that go into bookkeeping for small business, we’ve had one of our students get hired from a company in New York City to do e-commerce and management of emails, e-commerce for the business. And so it’s been- really it opens up a wide variety of opportunities for our students.

Those are just a couple of examples. There are a lot of jobs in healthcare, whether it’s medical coding or just medical questions that can be done over the phone but really anything that you can do on the computer or in an office job you can do online.

In San Juan County, we have had 17 of our students participate and find employment. We take pride in it. I take pride in every success story that we have in every county that I represent and I put it on my little board here. We know them personally and that’s the great part they’re not just a number, but it is exciting to see. It does change lives. It changes communities. People, if they have a little more extra income, it improves their morale and their way of life. I’m excited to be a part of this program. 

Elaine Gizler: [00:06:20] I think the fact that you could take someone who might have had something happen back in their life and now all of a sudden, they’ve got an opportunity to really do something different and good and change their lives, that is remarkable. I think this program really gives those individuals another opportunity and chance at life. That’s great news.

Ben Neilson: [00:06:45] I agree. Yeah. That’s really hopeful for a lot of people. I think of a lot of people in our county who’d benefit from what you’ve been saying. You also have this Master Remote Work professional class. Tell us a little bit about that.

Jordan Leonard: [00:07:01] Yes. This is where the rubber meets the road. We teach a one-month course. We meet on Zoom on Thursdays throughout the month of the class. We meet for one hour. We take our students through nine modules and we do those modules on Canvas. That’s an education platform where people can do their work from home, from a library, wherever they’d like wherever they have connectivity, they can take our class and graduate. We don’t meet in person. We do everything online, which helps our students understand the online tools, the online keys.

We meet four times a month on every Thursday of that month for one hour. They can meet at either one o’clock or six o’clock depending on their schedule in life, their work schedule and family schedule and other things. We teach that same class twice during that day. We take everyone through the modules. We meet once a week, and then we collaborate on Slack. We visit with our students with Slack and other communication tools, but we use Slack for the most part to communicate. We can talk in between class to our students. If they have questions, we are able to guide them through.

Other things that we do throughout the month, we have mentoring meetings and other workshops. We have businesses come and talk to our students about employment opportunities. Then we have a professional development meeting that they can come to if they would like. These are optional; we talk about personal development, we talk about professional development, resumes. A lot of different things we teach throughout that month. It’s nice. It’s not easy, you have to go through the modules. We have assignments. There are assignments to be handed in, there are quizzes. It’s all good learning. It’s not that hard. It just takes a little time. So yeah, we are excited for it.

We love our students that come through, and they come out with a certificate, at the end of the month, they get a certificate that they can use for their resume, portfolio. A lot of our employers that look at us see that remote work certificate and feel that they can trust them for work from home. It’s a really good class. I hope that helps explain it a little better.

Elaine Gizler: [00:09:36] It does. And I have to say I took the class, because I really wanted to see what it was all about. I was working my full-time job, and squeezing that in in the evening. And I had an opportunity to meet some other individuals from other states. We were in a group. I have to say it was really wonderful. What you learned and then ending up with a certificate. I have to say it isn’t easy as you indicated, but I think it is well worth taking the time to take this class and learn as much as you can and then if you like, you can secure a remote job, which I think gives so many people an opportunity today that they didn’t have several years ago. So this is great.

Jordan, I know that we’ve got initiatives and the mission statement and the vision statement. Has anything in those two, as you have been going through this the last couple of years with this program and you are looking forward, is there anything in the mission and vision that might change or might be different as you start moving through this the next few years?

Jordan Leonard: [00:11:03] Yeah. Good question Elaine. Just to state on the record, Elaine was one of our rock stars in our class. She was fantastic, and it is when you get to meet people from other states, people from around the state. It is a good networking opportunity as well for jobs. I like this question. Moving forward, we always have to be innovative. We need to stick to our core, that’s empowering families, providing education, and job creation. Another thing that we really focus on is retaining talent. A lot of people love living in rural Utah. I live in rural Utah, I want to stay here forever, but we need to have opportunities so we can stay.

This allows retention of our locals to potentially find a remote job, spend the money locally, and it really improves our economy and viability of our communities. Moving forward, remote work is here to stay. Some people aren’t too excited about remote work because it is a double-edged sword, but it provides opportunities. And the reason I say double-edged sword is people can move and live anywhere. We have a lot of, we call them “lone eagles” that are moving into our community. They are contributing to our community. They are being a part of our local volunteers. We will see an influx in rural Utah because of remote work. We live in beautiful communities that people love to recreate in, and people kind of want to live where they can recreate. There are some challenges that come around that with housing and different things.

Moving forward with our program, I think if we stick to our core values, one of the things that we are looking at is, there’s companies that potentially need training for their employees, that maybe we can connect with. We’ve also looked at looking more into maybe a sales program, where we can teach people how to become a tech sales type person. There are different classes that we’re looking to teach, one on e-commerce, technical sales, and there are some others that we’re looking at, but we need to continue to be innovative. Yeah, technical sales and e-commerce will kind of move into those as the economy changes a little bit as well.

Ben Neilson: [00:13:35] Sounds great. We talked a little about some of the success stories and some of the things that the Rural Online Initiative does. Is there anything that we haven’t captured as far as the objectives of the Rural Online Initiative?

Jordan Leonard: [00:13:49] I think we covered the objectives. I really want to stress to our local leaders or commissioners or economic development folks like yourself, that it is a piece of the economic pie, I guess. There are industries that we have in our community, but we need to allow this opportunity to be a part of our economic charge. Now I think just the support from local leaders is very important, as we move forward in our core values as well as our mission and vision is having good partnerships. Having a good partnership with those communities is key for our success. Yeah, that would be one thing that I didn’t touch on. Thanks for asking.

Elaine Gizler: [00:14:35] Jordan, how if people are interested in signing up for the course, how would they reach you or reach that information? Where would they go?

Jordan Leonard: [00:14:48] Yes. I can give you our website as well as my phone number, and you’re more than welcome to reach out. Our website is You can look and see what we do. There are other really good resources on there and then you can sign up for any one of our classes that we offer. That is the Rural Online Initiative My phone number, if you want to reach out. If you want to text me or call me it’s (435) 749-9069. I’m willing to talk to you about your skills. If you feel like the class could benefit you, I’d be more than happy to visit.

Elaine Gizler: [00:15:32] Jordan. I wanted to ask. Is there a cost or a fee to obtain your certificate?

Jordan Leonard: [00:15:39] Yes. Our next class will start in August. Those fees are $40 and that will take you through our one-month class that pays for your certificate, all the applications that you’ll need for the class, Canvas and all the other things that come along with it. It is a $40 class for the month and that allows you to go through and get your certificate and work through the university.

Elaine Gizler: [00:16:11] Jordan, as a follow-up, what are some of the expected positive impacts from this program, especially I would say here in San Juan County, because of- the largest county we’ve got- definitely have some challenges. I think remote work for our residents could be a real possibility for extra income. I’m wondering, what your thoughts are on how it could positively impact residents here in San Juan County.

Jordan Leonard: [00:16:46] I think there are a couple of things that we’ve seen throughout the program. One of them is confidence in themselves. I think each of us, if we have confidence in– some people are like, “oh technology, computer.” I think we all feel inadequate at times but as we take them through the course and give them confidence in using different applications to communicate, or Google docs, or Google products, as well as Trello, other management programs like Trello. I don’t want people to get nervous on this podcast, that I’m talking about all these apps, oh I’ve got to learn all of these. We take you through them very slow. As they learn these communication apps, and project management tools and saying, “Hey I can do good on Zoom, I can share my screen, I can do reactions.” I think the big key is building confidence. I think for all of us, the sky’s the limit if we have confidence.

Building confidence in their skills, building confidence that they are good enough to find employment, and that their skills are good enough, that there are employers looking for their skills. Those are two of the more soft skill type things that we teach, but we really do get to open up the global economy to our rural communities, where some people think of remote work and they’re like, they kind of know what it is, but it really opens up their eyes to the opportunities that are fiber internet. Hopefully, I think our rural communities are getting more connected with internet, whether that’s fiber or not.

But, the connectivity is starting to get better throughout our state, and hopefully, it’s continuing to develop in Grand and San Juan Counties. I think the confidence, the education, and learning the tools that it takes to be successful, really my opinion is the better we are as a rural community, the more we learn new things and the more we get confidence. I think people are willing to do hard things for their community and maybe start up a new business or maybe take a chance on a remote job that builds community. I think it just grows community. I felt that and seen that as the program is going on.

Elaine Gizler: [00:19:11] I know you mentioned it could be frightening to learn about new apps. I have to tell you that I do believe the way that the program takes an individual through learning about these different apps, whether it’s Trello or the other ones, I had no knowledge of those and I deal with computers and programs all the time. I think you have this training, takes you through it at a slower pace so that you really get it. And I found if you are having challenges with maybe not being totally up to speed on how to access these apps and utilize them, that you and the staff really have a way of walking someone through it. It’s not such a scary place. I found that to be really amazing.

It’s funny because I had hired a couple of younger students that had graduated from college. I was employing them and I had taken the course and finished it. Well when these college graduates came into work, they have been using these apps. I was thrilled that I knew what they were talking about because prior to that, I may not have known about those apps, but having gone through the remote work— The point I’m getting at is that don’t be afraid. It’s a great learning experience for an individual and sort of broadens your horizons. I think everyone, even if you don’t have an intention of taking a position with remote work right now, it’s just really getting a certification and having that is just really, I would advise it for anyone to take the course.

Ben Neilson: [00:20:58] Yeah. I love that. I like how it seems like this remote work would create additional jobs in our county that we don’t have, and helps us retain people in the county that would otherwise move away. All right. Jordan, how does having more remote work accessibility in an increased population within our town affect visitors?

Jordan Leonard: [00:21:20] Yeah. I think it’s the education side, accessibility to remote work. There’s a couple different sides to it when you’re talking about affecting visitors. When I think of visitors, I think of maybe Wi-Fi hotspots so that they could potentially remote work for an extra couple of days, maybe buy some more pizza, stay in the area, and stay in more hotels for another couple of days. When you look at the tourism side of it through commerce and business, it allows your tourist to potentially stay a little longer in San Juan County and things like that.

Having more remote work accessibility also builds extra jobs for your community and you have different legs to that economic stool that you’re trying to build out there. Increasing populations, you’re going to see probably an influx moving forward, people are moving to rural because of online opportunities.

Elaine Gizler: [00:22:19] Jordan, do you think that with the initiatives like the Rural Online Initiative, it might encourage people who are visiting to want to stay or relocate to a rural area?

Jordan Leonard: [00:22:31] Yeah, I think many, like this was mentioned before, love our small communities and love to recreate. Some people just want to get out of the hustle and bustle of where they’re living, whether it’s Salt Lake or whether it’s Denver, Colorado. I think people are looking to find a little slower pace of life and moving more towards remote work.

Elaine Gizler: [00:22:57] We here in San Juan County in Monticello just opened a beautiful coworking space. It is- I have to say amazing. The way it looks and what they’ve done to transform it into this coworking space, but it does have private booths where if you are on vacation, you decide maybe you don’t want to work at home today because the kids are home from school and there’s a lot of activity going on, but you can come to the coworking space and have a private booth to work and the internet works great. There’s a kitchen, refrigerator and all those amenities that you would need to be comfortable to work in that space.

We’re finding that might appeal to those who have the opportunity to work remotely and want to travel, and to come here and maybe throw in an RV, get out of the RV and come to the coworking space. I think it may entice people, especially visiting San Juan County to stay a few days longer, as you had indicated earlier, in our area, and stay and enjoy the scenery and the restaurants and get to know the local community. We’ve got that information on our economic development page for the coworking space. I think that gives remote workers just another opportunity that they don’t actually have to sit in their homes. They can get out, enjoy the outdoors, take a break, go ride your bike, go take a hike and then go back and work. I love it.

Jordan Leonard: [00:24:34] That’s exactly right. I think all of us would love to work on the beach somewhere or in San Juan County on one of the bluffs if there was connectivity, but yeah, I agree. Those coworking spaces are fantastic for not only the locals, but those that can bring some of their- It builds not only camaraderie, but I think it brings creativity as well as people communicate in those co-working spaces. They potentially come up with great ideas or maybe business ideas or hey, where are you from or what are you doing? I think it does grow opportunities for our communities. I’m glad coworking spaces seem like really good places for innovation for sure.

Elaine Gizler: [00:25:20] Well thank you Jordan. It’s been such a pleasure to have you here. I wanted to add that as you know, we’ve been teasing these many months. We will be implementing a new program soon where people can send in voice message questions for upcoming podcasts and now it’s live. You can find it on our website at, that’s You have to look for the little red button that says speak with us, and it’ll let you record a question, to ask us a question and then we will look forward to hearing from you. We will be hearing your feedback and your comments and we’ll respond.

Well Jordan, we can’t thank you enough for being here with us and giving an overview of the Online Remote Work Initiative. I really hope that local residents in the community will look into this and take advantage of it because it’s a program well worth the $40 to sign up for. I have to say. It’s been wonderful to have you here and be part of our podcast.

Jordan Leonard: [00:26:27] Thanks Elaine and thanks Ben for having me on the podcast today.

Ben Neilson: [00:06:30] It’s our pleasure. We appreciate everything you’re doing for Rural Utah, for San Juan County. I just want to say for all those who are listening, feel free to contact us at or with any questions or comments. We’d love to hear from you all. We appreciate you tuning in to San Juan Now. We have given you some valuable information and look forward to continue to be your source for what’s happening in San Juan County.

Elaine Gizler: [00:27:03] Our team at the Economic Development Visitor Services office are grateful to all of you for joining us. Please follow us on Facebook and Instagram at Utah’s Canyon Country or San Juan County Economic Development Visitor Services.

To stay up to date on everything that’s happening in San Juan County, we are trying to keep everyone abreast of all the opportunities and things that are happening. We thank you again. We appreciate that you’re listening. Again, feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions or suggestions for future speakers and guests. Thank you.

Ben Neilson: [00:27:37] Thanks for listening to San Juan Now, part of the Destination Marketing Podcast Network hosted by Elaine Gizler and Ben Neilson, and produced by Relic.

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