Connecting Libraries to Employment with Workforce Literacy

Jenny Powell /

Public libraries are often the go-to resource for job seekers whether they are using the internet for online searches, updating or crafting a new résumé, or laying groundwork to acquire new skills. To assist libraries in compiling resources and supporting job hunters, Jason Broughton, Outreach Coordinator, South Carolina State Library, joined us May 6 for an enlightening webinar and shared how the Work SC website has been instrumental in supporting libraries, government agencies and citizens. Image used with permission from Jason BroughtonJason provided an in-depth review of the site which attracts potential employment applicants throughout the state, while serving as a powerful workforce collection. He also offered informative tips for assisting a variety of individuals and explained "the goal aside from connecting people to employment, is helping users to be efficient by making jobs of those who work at public libraries a little easier."

Jason, a 2015 Library Journal Mover & Shaker who earned a Masters of Public Administration (MPA) degree and was also a teacher for nearly a decade in Tampa, FL, moved home to South Carolina to care for his mother. There, he became an Employment Specialist for Charleston County Government which helped paved his path to the South Carolina State Library when he noticed a job posting for Workforce. This unique position specified that the candidate would examine curricula, help libraries understand who unemployment users are, and be charged with compiling a plethora of tools and information to support job seekers. "They were looking for somebody, believe it or not, who was not a librarian so when I started, I was not a librarian, but as time went on I became a librarian. I just graduated last August," he revealed.

When the program was developed five years ago, South Carolina was in the top ten worst states in which to land employment, and libraries across the state reported an upsurge in patrons seeking jobs and skill enhancement. Jason shared how he and the webmaster envisioned an all-encompassing site ensuring that it would contain a job seeking roadmap to help users from start to finish. Users can:

  • Learn how to create an email account
  • Acquire knowledge to build a résumé using Microsoft Word
  • Find online job training tutorials and links to training opportunities hosted at local libraries
  • Link directly to state specific and national job listing sites along with tips for job searching
  • Locate resources for starting a business
  • Discover tips for thriving in the workplace

Citing 'the new normal for libraries is to use employment to leverage how they are connected to their communities', Jason described how users may stem from all walks of life including being unemployed, underemployed, recently laid off, dislocated workers, first time job seekers, career changers, mature workers (seniors), retired, or military families. Or, perhaps they could be categorized as teens, ex-offenders, hard to employ, disabled/handicapped, tribal, new immigrants, high school dropouts, collegiate users or those who are continuously learning and training. He expressed it is key to remember their needs must all be met individually.

Core elements that Jason discussed when working with job seekers include:

As an avenue to connect with a large quantity of job seekers who are facing an imminent layoff or company closure (often referred to as a RIF or reduction in workforce), consider hosting a 'boot camp'. If you have a connection with this business, conduct onsite info sessions, or invite those who are affected to the library to showcase the resources you have available. It is also crucial to have obtainable tools to provide emotional support.

Jason also suggests offering a boot camp geared toward teens featuring topics relative to writing a first résumé, actively conducting an online job search, and grasping what employers are looking for in an entry-level candidate. You might also plan to discuss locating employment without having a GED, understanding the importance of volunteering to gain skills, and have information on hand for disadvantaged youth to seek a registered apprenticeship under the federal government. And, if you want to target children and spark their interest toward future employment, host a 'big truck' event inviting an ambulance, tow truck, semi, firetruck and others, to come show off their vehicles and offer a unique career day or incorporate jobs into story time.

Do you have a large military population in your area? If so, Jason encourages libraries to periodically invite a representative from the VA to offer specific resources to support transitioning from the military back to the civilian world or create packets that can be offered as needed.

Given size and resources available at your library, there may be times when you might not be able to provide direct or immediate support, but you can offer referrals and information in a positive way. He went on to explain that in South Carolina where overburdened libraries have limited computers available, staff members have had to confess "we can't help you right now, but I know where you can probably go to have assistance". He went on to explain that in many states Goodwill stores have Job Connection sites with several computers available and a clearinghouse to other great resources.

When possible, recommend job seekers enroll in a free Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) to sharpen their skills or investigate a new area of learning. Completed courses can easily be listed on résumés to influence potential employers and can often provide focus to a job seeker who is between jobs. Popular and easy-to-use MOOC providers include:

  • edX – A not-for-profit enterprise with MIT and Harvard universities as founding partners
  • Coursera – A social entrepreneurship company founded by computer science professors Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller from Stanford University.
  • Udacity – An outgrowth of a Stanford University experiment in which Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig offered their 'Introduction to Artificial Intelligence' course online for free in which over 160,000 students in more than 190 countries enrolled
  • Canvas – A network that connects students, teachers & institutions
  • 10gen Education – A learning platform run by 10gen (the MongoDB company)
  • P2PU - Peer to Peer University is a non-profit, founded with funding from the Hewlett Foundation and the Shuttleworth Foundation
  • Udemy – An online learning platform that allows anyone to host their video courses
  • UoPeople – University of the People (UoPeople) is a tuition-free, non-profit, online academic institution offering undergraduate programs in Business Administration and Computer Science, as well as Health Science and Education programs.
  • Khan Academy

This website, which blends with their LibGuides for a consistent look, is easy to navigate and incorporates unique headers designed to flow chronologically and move job seekers through the stages of employment. The home page features electronic subscription resources including Ferguson's Career Guidance Center, the Learning Express Library and the Small Business Reference Center. First built to attract public and academic libraries, the site also has been integral to serving government agencies, non-profit organizations and state residents. The use of Google Analytics also helps Jason to understand that people – outside of the state and often with global exposure, are utilizing this site as well. He maintains too, that the use of analytics can help libraries understand the devices people are using to connect, so content can be appropriately scripted and delivered in real time.

Should you wish to adapt tools that would mirror this website, Jason strongly proposed that you continue to update and check links, resources and research – and don't be seen as behind the curve, keeping in mind that an emphasis should be kept primarily local to your community with available state information as well. And, when possible, maintain collaborative relationships with area technical colleges who have internal knowledge of non-posted job openings with adjacent corporations who may require specific training to fill positions.

Jason also encourages libraries and their staff to take a look at resources on their site (see right rail) geared toward librarians. Though some documents speak specifically toward residents and employment within the state of South Carolina, there are helpful links to computer course curricula and downloadable documents to assist patrons.

So, in a nutshell, what are the key pieces of advice Jason offers? First, know your benefits and think about who you are going to help. Don't focus on 'the why'. Take a place at the table and remember you are all about providing information. Next, "when you are the expert on your collection, you are going to be one of the most powerful tools in the room," he noted. And he went on to say "you should always know the breadth and depth of your collection. It will help you help your users the most. They will be able to say this is a person who has been helpful to me; this person is an authority and this is definitely a resource I can use!"

View more resources as well as the complete webinar recording on the event page.