Remote work certificate pays off for a range of Iowans

Working remotely comes with the job for Brenda Schmitt and countless other ISU Extension and Outreach employees. She communicated with others through Zoom or WebEx long before the pandemic made it commonplace.

Even with that experience, the human sciences extension specialist learned plenty from "Remote Work: How to Get Started." The online certificate course is offered in partnership with extension at Utah State University. ISU has been an affiliate member of the program since 2019, with more universities across the nation joining yearly.

"I took the program, and it was an eye-opener," Schmitt said. "Communication is huge, and taking the course you see how much more cohesively you are able to work as a group. There are a lot of little tips that are good for anyone, working remotely or not."

Information please

Register online for “Remote Work: How to Get Started” informational meetings scheduled for Sept. 12, Sept. 19, Sept. 26, Oct. 10, Oct. 17 and Oct. 24. Some extension offices have full scholarships available to cover the cost of the program.

Schmitt covers a mostly rural 13-county area in north central Iowa and quickly realized the benefits of the course for the entire state.

"I manage five Volunteer Income Tax Assistance sites, so I see about 500 people during tax season," she said. "The biggest thing I hear is, 'I really want to work remotely, but I don't have a clue about how to get started.'"

The course helps people beginning or making a career change, and teachers can use it as continuing education units.  Some employers require the certificate to allow their employees to work remotely, Schmitt said.

The 30-hour program developed by Utah State has nine self-paced modules and four interactive workshops. ISU extension’s role begins after individuals complete the course. People can meet with an extension staff member for career coaching advice and often identify additional skill sets to pursue or sharpen for a job.

"ISU extension has a four-person field staff that will support our students from the state," Schmitt said. "We know what jobs are available and how people can tap into other resources."

FlexJobs is used to help secure employment for those who complete the course because of its high level of vetting, Schmitt said. The program is promoted by Iowa Workforce Development and Vocational Rehabilitation Services across the state.

Participants also have access to two monthly webinars where business and industry leaders talk about skills they look for in potential employees and available jobs.


The course is offered monthly, except for July and December, with free informational online meetings the second, third and fourth Monday of each month through October. People 17 and older can ask questions and get an overview of the course before making the $249 commitment.

The course simulates remote work, with assignments due every Wednesday night and large online group meetings on Thursdays. Topics include communication, workflow, productivity and time management.

"This helps to ensure you know how to operate your camera, microphone and speakers," Schmitt said. "It also helps you set up a professional space to work and have online meetings."

A group project is assigned with individuals from across the country, putting group dynamics to the test in the online environment. Participants use the latest technology like Slack, Canvas and Zoom to prepare for future employment.

Age is just a number

The course may seem geared toward experienced workers looking to make a change, but Schmitt encounters people on both ends of the age spectrum, with course enrollment steadily increasing. It includes older individuals not ready to retire but no longer interested in traveling for work to those looking for a first job.

High school graduates gain entry-level employment to earn income while they attend college or determine the next step. College students also take advantage of remote work to maintain jobs even if they leave campus to return home for the summer, Schmitt said.

"This keeps them from having to find a summer job, and others are able to turn it into an internship experience," she said. "There are two individuals with physical disabilities who have taken the course because working from home is their only option."