Serving Job Seekers: Partnerships with a Common Goal

Ahniwa Ferrari /

Last week WebJunction was pleased to host a webinar on Serving Job Seekers that brought together perspectives looking at national resources, state efforts, and work at the public library level. Michael Harding, WorkForce Analyst with the Employment and Training Administration at the U.S. Department of Labor, covered the topic in terms of national efforts and resources. Steve Olson, Regional Director Job Services Operations Bureau and the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, covered statewide efforts in Montana. To finish, Aubrey B. Carroll, Information Services Manager for the Florence County Library System, covered the topic from the local public library perspective. Each speaker brought an interesting perspective and covered numerous helpful resources which are linked to on the WebJunction event page.

To begin, Jennifer Peterson covered some of the recent efforts that WebJunction has made to assist libraries in aiding job seekers and to highlight the excellent work that libraries are doing in that area. WebJunction's big project in this area was Project Compass, which was a three-year project that focused on patron needs and libraries' responses, and which resulted in building a community of practice on WebJunction and a workshop curriculum for interested libraries. More of WebJunction's resources in this area can be found in our Workforce Services topic, under the Project Compass project page (including the Curriculum Workbook), in the Community Partnerships and Collaboration Guide, and in Library Partnerships with Workforce Agencies.

Mike Harding spoke about some of the excellent resources being made available, many of which have been highlighted on our site in a series of blog posts available in our Workforce Services section. One of the very interesting success stories that Mike highlighted was in partnership with the Pierce County Library System and the Pierce County Workforce Investment Board (WIB) to develop Job and Business Centers in six PCLS libraries.

The Job and Business Centers (JBCs) were successful in bolstering the library's commitment to job seekers and small businesses. They did this by connecting people looking for jobs with the most helpful electronic resources, and approaching the issues from a number of directions. They introduces mobile laptop labs which were helpful in getting electronic resources out to library patrons in more rural areas and help job seekers in smaller, hard hit communities. The JBC project also introduced "Library in a Bag", which offered support information on job searching, starting a business, and managing personal finances, containing a set of introductory books to give patrons a first step in learning what they needed to know in those areas.

Steve Olson brought a lot of interesting information to the webinar about building successful partnerships between libraries, workforce development officers, and other interested parties. Steve covered some of the issues that Montana deals with in terms of size and its rural nature, and explained how the BTOP project was able to help get help and resources out to the people that needed it regardless of location. BTOP helped Montana libraries expand broadband access, increase quality and volume of computers available to the public, fund computer coordinators and technology staff, and develop a mobile computer lab.

Steve discussed how important teamwork was in developing partnerships, and highlighted work led by the Montana State Library and including work with public libraries, government agencies, and private non-profits. These partnerships led to great tools like Library.Next, an internet tool to "help Montanans tame the wild, wild web," to a series of nationwide webinars on topics including job search, social media, and interview skills, and to guides created by library staff helping their patrons effectively navigate the Montana Department of Labor and Industries website.

One of the great things Steve mentioned is that projects begin and end with relationships. In almost every case, these relationships will last long after the official project has ended, and they create connections between libraries and other agencies that can be utilized again and again to the benefit of both. In addition, these relationships highlight the importance of libraries to the community and make other agencies aware of the resources and expertise that libraries can bring to the table.

Jennifer Birnel, Project Manager with the Montana State Library, weighed in via chat: "The partnership between Montana State Library and Montana Workforce Services was so successful due to the willingness of the people involved. Everyone was willing to work towards a common goal and a great team was formed!"

The final speaker of the day, Aubrey B. Carroll spoke about the work they've been doing at Florence County Library System, a six-branch system located in the NE corner of South Carolina. Aubrey looked back to 2008, when the economy was first starting to slow down, and when they first saw that most of the people were in the library and on the computers looking for jobs and that many people lacked basic job seeking skills, basic computer skills, or both. At the same time, Workforce Centers (of which there were two in the county) were busier and busier. A partnership between the two agencies brought the facilities, extended hours, staff, and computers of the libraries, along with the expertise, client referral, staff training, and databases of the workforce centers. The county only has one Workforce Center now, but through partnering with the library system, job and computer assistance are close by for nearly everyone in the county.

Aubrey highlighted some other interesting partnerships the library has been involved in, including one with Project H.O.P.E. (via United Way) and to provide workshops on resume preparation, interview skills, and job searching. The library is also partnering with the WIB and to purchase video equipment with the goal of providing practice interview sessions for job seekers. Setting up mock interviews and giving patrons a chance to practice marketing their skills filled a niche, and they plan on specifically targeting veterans, a community who often has great skills but have a hard time marketing themselves.

Aubrey highlighted a number of other successful partnerships and closed with the quote: "When you work with partners you can work with what you have and leverage these resources and that's what enables you to have these success stories."

Many more examples, resources, and materials are available on the official WebJunction event page, where you can also view the full recording of the session.