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Certified “Ready for Work” Job Skills Training at Queens Library
Queens Library, NY
Innovation SummaryQueens Library offers computer skills training, from basic digital literacy through online learning that prepares customers to earn certifications in industry-recognized softwares (Microsoft Office, Sigma Six.). Customers who do not have conducive learning environments are invited to open lab hours. Training is augmented by free library-based ESOL and other services.
Good jobs are hard to come by. In Queens County (NYC), almost half of all residents are immigrants and challenged by language, and often by education and cultural differences, as well. Resume-worthy certifications are valuable, but often unaffordable. To many, the language barrier makes them almost unattainable, as community college classes are given in English. Many others lack broadband access or quiet computer time at home to improve skills – yet those skills are critical in securing jobs in a job competitive market. Many people also require ancillary educational services, such as ESOL or GED preparation, and uninterrupted computer time in which to practice and learn. These customers require the guidance of trained library staff to steer them to a package of programs and services that will help them become economically viable in a very competitive city.
Queens Library’s Job Information Services go beyond workshops and formal adult education. They actively seek to break down the barriers to learning, whether that means the customer needs referral to affordable child care or an interview-appropriate suit. It begins with marketing the services to the community. Queens is one of the most linguistically diverse counties in the U.S. To attract and inform customers, advertisements on transit vehicles and print media are prepared in the simplest possible language and make good use of graphics and icons to carry the message, so they are understandable to the largest possible audience. Customers who approach the Job Information Center are asked to take an assessment, to determine their level of literacy and digital literacy, and also as a way to determine what other services might be needed. Customers are offered multiple ways to access training from the library. They may attend in-person workshops, using curricula that have been prepared by library staff. They may take advantage of library laptops during lab hours with trained staff available to assist. Labs are exempt from the 1 hour computer-time limit that usually applies to use of the library’s computers, giving the learners more time to concentrate and practice. More advanced users may take online training remotely, through online vendor Metrix or LearningExpress Library. Some courses are available in languages other than English, especially the more basic workshops. Customers who wish to advance to industry-recognized certifications are given free vouchers to take certification exams, upon completion of the online training. Throughout, library staff are available to coach and refer them to other services that will improve their chances for success and better employment.
More than 25,000 hours of free computer and job skills training was given in 2012. Since there is no formal follow up with customers who use the service for confidentiality reasons, we have anecdotal evidence that customers have been able to obtain jobs due to training received at Queens Library. We know they are profoundly grateful. Many customers are referred to other services in and out of the library. Whether they lack a GED or affordable eyeglasses, training in the library gives them access to other referrals that would not be available if they were in a dedicated job training program. In terms of lessons learned, it is a myth that young people are universally digitally literate. They know how to work a smart phone – The End. Many, if not most, do not have a clue how to work word processing software or do research online, or apply for a job online by attaching a resume, etc. The need for job training in the library is not limited to low income. Even in households that can afford their own computer access, parents striving to improve economically have to wait until the kids are in bed, the phone stops ringing, the laundry is done, etc., etc; by that time, they are too exhausted to learn. The ability to sit for a few quiet hours in the library, using a laptop, is a valuable gift.