What problems did our client need to solve?
Goodwill Industries is a nonprofit organization that provides job training, employment placement services and other community-based programs for people who have barriers to their employment, commonly including the lack of digital equity. To ensure true digital equity, everyone needs access to information and communication technologies and the knowledge to properly use them. Evergreen Goodwill of Northwest Washington was looking for a mobile solution that they could physically bring to people in underserved communities, specifically indigenous groups and refugees. Evergreen Goodwill needed an unconventional approach to decreasing the digital divide through delivering high-speed internet access, computer literacy and workforce development classes without relying on permanent infrastructure.
Why did they choose to work with Black & Veatch?
One of Black & Veatch’s existing clients, an international telecommunications company, introduced our team to Evergreen Goodwill after hearing about their unique request for a mobile education solution. Our team jumped at the opportunity to solve the problem of connectivity access in a new and different way. Evergreen Goodwill was impressed with Black & Veatch’s 100-year history of delivering infrastructure solutions to diverse customers and our employee ownership structure. By building relationships with our Goodwill counterparts, we gained their trust in our competency, shared company values and genuine care for this meaningful cause.
What solutions did Black & Veatch provide?
Black & Veatch developed a hands-on stakeholder engagement process to define Evergreen Goodwill’s vision and bring that vision to life. This initial collaborative and iterative planning process took about six months before we began the vehicle build-out. In early 2022, we delivered Evergreen Goodwill’s very first digital equity bus — a state-of-the-art vehicle that exemplifies innovative, accessible strategies to further inclusion in workforce development. This mobile classroom spans 36 feet in length and features fully equipped workstations for students and instructors. A retractable awning and pop-up furniture create a comfortable exterior classroom space for 30 additional students. Although a vehicle of this size does require U.S. Department of Transportation regulation, it does not require a commercial driver’s license as a semi-truck-sized solution would.
The bus integrates essential learning technology including wireless connectivity, charging stations, laptops, sound-amplifying equipment and specialized accessibility features. Kajeet was brought on board to provide SmartBus™ WiFi, a router-based solution enabling individuals on or around the bus to simultaneously connect to secure and high-speed internet.
What have been the results of this solution?
Evergreen Goodwill is using our digital equity bus solution to bring English and computer literacy classes to Ukrainian refugees in a welcoming, efficient and cost-effective way. In addition to language development and digital literacy, Evergreen Goodwill provides advanced curriculums (such as coding classes) shaped by their major sponsors in the area that’s home to Boeing and Microsoft. There also have been preliminary discussions about how the digital equity bus platform can be adapted for the classroom portion of building trade education. Evergreen Goodwill has seen a huge demand for their at-capacity mobile learning opportunities, and the success of this solution has already justified the need for additional digital equity vehicles in the area.
What challenges did we face?
Since Black & Veatch’s mobile classroom solution was the first of its kind, we faced challenges of being pioneers in the digital equity field. Our team experienced extreme supply chain issues, embarking on this project when product lead times were at an all-time high due to the pandemic. Obtaining the vehicle chassis to build upon was our first procurement challenge, followed by a long search for adequate equipment. Upon completion, transportation logistics became our biggest issue. We needed to safely transport the 36-feet-long vehicle from Indiana where it was manufactured all the way to Washington state in the middle of winter, without putting any mileage on the odometer. It was secured on a flatbed trailer towed by a semi-truck, requiring special transportation permits in each state it crossed due to the height. We also had to find special ramps in each location for safe loading and unloading. Once the bus safely arrived in Washington, our team had to keep it completely hidden from the public before the big reveal to major stakeholders in Seattle.
What’s next for Black & Veatch’s digital equity solutions?
Black & Veatch’s digital equity bus serves as a model for other organizations engaged in digital equity initiatives and productivity solutions. Evergreen Goodwill is using our digital equity bus to serve the northern part of the greater Seattle area and ideally would have a vehicle to reach each of the five counties they cover. Evergreen Goodwill’s second digital equity bus is in development (completion scheduled for mid-2023) and will offer even more educational features. We are thrilled to be strengthening our relationship with Evergreen Goodwill and hope to deliver additional innovative infrastructure solutions to Goodwill Industries’ 150-plus other organizations. Utilizing creative solutions like Black & Veatch’s digital equity bus to extend the reach of digital literacy programs is especially critical now that so many people rely on access to technology and Wi-Fi for work and school. Learn more about our workforce development solutions here.