Building Assets for the Rural Future

Improve Work Skills and Health of Rural Populations

Improve Work Skills and Health of Rural Populations

To earn a living and contribute to the local economy, it is necessary—but not sufficient—for individuals to possess marketable skills. Skills are not sufficient, however, because individuals must also be able to reliably bring their skills to the market and fully participate in the workforce. This requires a certain measure of health and personal safety, in addition to access to work prerequisites such as child care and transportation. To the extent that individuals in a community possess both marketable skills and the means to participate fully in the workforce, the community stands to gain from the enhanced productivity of its residents.

Two fundamental requirements for productive participation in the workforce are education and health. This fact has not been lost on North Carolina. Education initiatives in the state span from early childhood education to training for dislocated adult workers. Health has recently captured statewide attention with the enactment of a restaurant smoking ban and with adjustments made to the state employee health care plan to reward employees who make healthy lifestyle choices. These are only a few examples. These policy areas are so broad that it would be impossible to catalogue all of the ongoing efforts.

What is possible in the context of this publication, however, is to offer a description of a small number of tactics that were identified as being particularly relevant or innovative approaches to asset-building in rural communities. To that end, two tactics are explored, one related to workforce education and the other related to health.  The workforce education tactic looks at efforts to improve the skills and labor market participation of rural workers (Advance Rural Workforce Development). The second examines the intersection of rural health and financial asset-building by describing efforts to eliminate rural food deserts (Improve Access to Nutritious Food in Rural Areas).