Library collaboration expands and translates job search skills training
"The steps in the Job Help Toolkit are simple and practical in theory, but it’s important to remember that it is a huge adjustment for many of these individuals. Someone who, let’s just say was a potter in their community—a respected trade—is now living in an environment where the demands of the marketplace in terms of skills that are valued are dramatically different." —Beth Matthias-Loghry, Pima County Public Library
Since the 1970s, Arizona has been one of many resettlement destinations for refugees entering the U.S. Over 52,000 refugees from more than 90 countries have found respite in the state. For Pima County, this means that today, 27 percent of its population speaks a language other than English at home. In December 2009, Arizona’s unemployment rate rose to just over 9 percent. And, the state’s 65+ population is on the rise. In fact, it is currently ranked third nationally for the largest projected growth rate (255 percent). Many of these individuals over age 50 are looking to reenter the workforce.
These population and economic shifts led to the need for new solutions for serving this community. In April 2009, the Pima County Administrator challenged The Pima County Public Library (PCPL) and Pima County ONESTOP Career Centers to work in partnership to create programs and identify technology-based solutions to meet the needs of the community’s growing displaced worker population. PCPL and ONESTOP were asked to pilot and launch a program. The result: Job Help.
The two groups compared the services each was already providing to the community, and quickly identified how they would jointly work to address the unique needs of their community. PCPL agreed to purchase the same résumé software that ONESTOP uses. PCPL presented their program models, positions and the technology they had available to Pima County ONESTOP. They also sent library staff to observe ONESTOP’s employability skills classes, repurposed the information and incorporated it into computer classes offered through the library.
Both PCPL and the Pima County ONESTOP Career Centers recruited additional computer instructors as well as computer-savvy youth between the ages of 16–21 to assist job-seekers on a one-on-one basis at library branches. These new staff members were trained on the résumé software. In June 2009, the Job Help pilot program launched and library staff began delivering portions of the employability curriculum of ONESTOP eight hours each week at eight library branches.
“We engaged the youth computer monitors through ONESTOP’s Pledge-A-Job program and we also sought additional funds to expand the target audience to include refugees,” said Beth Matthias-Loghry, Coordinator of Adult Services at Pima County Public Library. “We have hired and trained computer instructors that bring many of the languages of our community’s populations to the table. We currently have an instructor who speaks Arabic, and another instructor who speaks four target languages represented by our refugee populations. We also offer instruction in Spanish. These instructors are in the process of translating the curriculum. That is the priority. And depending on future funding, we hope to maintain and expand instruction in many of these target languages. But because future funding isn’t guaranteed—the first goal must be translation.”
The Job Help Toolkit is comprised of steps to help job-seekers take a systematic approach to their job search. The steps they suggest include opening an e-mail account specifically designated for your job search, logging into the Arizona Career Information System and creating an “action plan,” participating in self assessments that will help match your skills with occupations. This Job Help session was conducted in Arabic, one of many languages spoken by populations residing in Pima County.
“The steps in the Job Help Toolkit are simple and practical in theory, but it’s important to remember that it is a huge adjustment for many of these individuals. Someone who, let’s just say was a potter in their community—a respected trade—is now living in an environment where the demands of the marketplace in terms of skills that are valued are dramatically different.”
Another component of Job Help was the creation of mobile career centers—laptops set up in designated meeting rooms specifically for use by dislocated workers. “Our library director saw the potential and gave us approval for implementation. We’ve added computer instructors and two more ‘mobile labs’ to our three existing ones. These are separate from the public-access computers, which have time limits and aren’t conducive for activities like workshops, building résumés or conducting job searches, all of which require a great deal of time. Trying to accomplish these types of activities with time limits (and for many of our customers, in a foreign language) is not only stressful, but yields fewer results.
“We continue to have ongoing meetings with ONESTOP to continue to evaluate and improve on the program. One of the challenges we’re currently faced with is determining the success of our efforts—who is finding work as a result of Job Help? We’re very limited because of our commitment to patron confidentiality. We are still trying to identify what statistics we can collect. Other than a handful of testimonials, it has been difficult to gauge our results.”
“The Job Help program is serving as a potential program model for an Arizona Department of Commerce BTOP Grant Request related to Career Centers, in cooperation with the Arizona State Library. It’s clear that help for those seeking employment continues to be priority for Arizona—and libraries are being considered as critical venues to expand the reach of related services.”
With the increase in dislocated workers throughout the county, Pima County ONESTOP Career Center staff members are stretched thinly. And with the programming now available through the public library branches, now there are ten more locations where people can find the help that they need. “Many of the individuals over 50 currently looking to reenter the workforce lack some of the fundamental skills that conducting a job search today requires. And while the Job Help platform is geared toward computer-related skills necessary to conduct a job search, the program also introduces e-mail and social networking as a way to stay connected with friends and family to this demographic.
“What we’re finding from the testimonials that we are getting is that library staff serve as a friendly face—libraries are a very nonthreatening atmosphere where—even though we do have a process in place, we are catering to individuals’ needs. We’re the friendly face of government—not just a form for them to fill out. Plus, many of our computer instructors have conducted job searches themselves. They can empathize with these job-seekers and relate on a personal level in terms of the anxiety many of them feel. The library is a calm place during a very stressful time, and we’re here to help people take steps to help themselves.”
PCPL has shared their story on the ALA Web site as part of Public Library Funding and Technology Access Study Press Kit. You can find it by visiting
For more information about the Job Help program at Pima County Public Library or the toolkit, send an e-mail to Beth.Matthias-Loghry@pima.gov
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