In 2016, Berkeley County in South Carolina was seeing an increase in businesses opening or moving to the area, bringing new job opportunities for community members. The Berkeley County Library System, along with their partners with the local school district’s Adult Community Education program and the Chamber of Commerce knew that they could support local residents by helping to build the job skills needed for the new employers and the available positions. Together, they partnered on an application for a Google Data Center Community grant that would support the organizations in delivering training to under- or unemployed members the community.
The Berkeley Career Express Program was conceived by the director of the Adult Community Education who brought together the local partners to create a program that would benefit the community. The library’s Friends group served as the grant applicant and formal recipient since they are a 501(c)3 organization, which was one of the grant requirements.
The program partners developed an eight-week certificate program that would meet four categories of training needs: digital literacy, career readiness, ACT soft skills and adult education/general development classes.
The first cohort of learners started in January 2017, and the library checked out Chromebooks and Kajeet SmartSpots to support 22 of the 38 participants in their coursework. The SmartSpots are mobile, wireless hotspots, providing internet access. The SmartSpots are limited by the amount of data that can be accessed during the day and are restricted from being able to stream media to minimize any issues with data usage. Prior to this project, the library had already offered Chromebooks to the public for checkout, and the Berkeley Career Express Program became an extension of that effort. Library director Gene Brunson reported that there were two key learnings about the experience with the device checkout program. The first is that they had to switch the length of the lending period for the devices. When the checkout program first started, people could check out a device for a month, but that was changed to two weeks when the waiting list started getting too long. Participants in the Career Express Program were able to keep the devices throughout their eight-week program. The second lesson is that residents in remote areas can have problems with using SmartSpots, because they are too far from an access point and are unable to get a signal that would allow them to use the device. For participants in the Career Express Program, this meant that they often relied on the wireless service provided at the library, as well as the physical space to work on their assignments.
Brunson shared that a benefit of the Career Express Program for the library has been the opportunity to hear from the community about their needs, wants and expectations. The program also introduced new users to the library and the opportunity for the library to market their services to this cohort of learners. Participants didn’t realize that the library had so many resources, like checking out Chromebooks and hotspots, which are services they can continue to use, even after they complete the program.
A second cohort of learners will start the program in January 2018, and looking ahead to the future of the program beyond the grant, Brunson expects that the Chromebook and SmartSpot checkout will continue to be available, and the library will also look back and see what they can improve in their skill-building services. The library recently added access to Lynda.com which will be incorporated into learning opportunities for both staff and patrons. Brunson is planning a “Learn and Go” event which will be designed as quick, 15-20 minute lessons, focus on one training topic, and will incorporate a Lynda.com module with the help of library staff and utilizing library resources.
This program represented a powerful partnership that strengthened a grant application and provided much needed job-readiness services to a community on the cusp of major change. Together, these partners are empowering users for long-term employment success!