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Palm Beach County Library System, FL
Innovation SummaryDespite improving economic conditions, the unemployment rate in Palm Beach County still stands at 8 percent (Jan. 2013). Many of those seeking jobs lack the knowledge and technical skills necessary for today’s workplace. The Palm Beach County Library has addressed the problem with Workforce Wednesdays, offering classes aimed at developing basic job skills.
Palm Beach County is a diverse community of approximately 1.35 million people, and while the local unemployment rate has declined to approximately 8 percent in recent years, those left without jobs are often lacking basic knowledge on how to conduct a job search or how to use a computer. In addition, more than twenty percent of county residents speak a language other than English in the home. Because the Palm Beach County Library System offers public access to computers, librarians have been inundated with requests for assistance with resume writing, job searching, and computer help. The Workforce Wednesdays program addresses the issue by offering county residents a place to acquire training on a variety of job-related topics. The Library Computer Center offers workshops on: Resume writing Conducting an online job search Using library databases to find job leads How to prepare for interviews Basic computer skills (Mousing, Keyboarding, Email, MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.) While the workshop topics vary from week to week, residents know that if it’s a Wednesday, they will be able to participate in one or more of the above activities. Programs are publicized with posters, flyers, in our Happenings newsletter, on the library website, and by sharing information with community organizations working with the unemployed population (Workforce Alliance, Dress for Success, etc.).
Program planning began with an in depth examination of the need. It was evident to all library staff that there was a demand for job skills training, but in order to determine the scope of the need, we tracked the number of people coming to the Main branch of the library to use the Jobview kiosk as well as the number of individuals seeking assistance with job applications and resume writing. Attendance records for the computer classes that were currently being offered in the Library Computer Center were reviewed, and staff identified which were most useful for job seekers. Staff researched other agencies within the community that offered job assistance, and as a result, we reached out to Workforce Alliance, a local nonprofit organization operating career centers throughout the county, to learn more about how they help the unemployed. The library system has had a history of collaboration with Workforce Alliance, and they were anxious to learn of our program. We took the opportunity to inform them about our planned workshops and to gain feedback. As a result of those meetings, several staff members were invited to attend orientations at Workforce Alliance. This gave us a better understanding of the opportunities available to jobseekers in the Palm Beach County, and enabled us to avoid duplication of programs. We then planned our class schedule to accommodate jobseekers on Wednesdays (though, of course, they are welcome any day). New courses were added to supplement basic workshops so that students would have the opportunity to continue to develop their skills. In addition to computer and job related classes presented by library staff, outside experts were invited to present programs outside the normal scope of library staff (i.e., “Presenting a Winning Image”).
Workforce Wednesdays attracts a loyal group of patrons; many workshop participants stay for all workshops being offered that day. Evaluation forms are requested from attendees, and students consistently indicate that the workshops are helpful, well-taught, and useful. Comments include: “I was so nervous coming into the class. I was afraid that everyone would be better at using the computer than I was, and I was right. But by the end of the class, I felt so much better. The teacher was patient and took the time to answer all of my questions.” “When I came to the resume writing class, I didn’t think that I had much to list since I haven’t worked for the past few years. But by the end of the class, I felt proud about the things that I’ve done.” “Excellent workshop. For the first time, I feel good about using the computer!” Future plans include working with library branches to expand the program. We are also discussing the possibility of developing a similar program aimed at teens and young adults, with the focus of workshops on interviewing, researching job opportunities, and resume writing. Implementation of Workforce Wednesdays has offered a number of lessons. We realized that in order to impact a large segment of the Palm Beach County population, classes should be offered in Spanish and Creole as well as English so we enlisted the support of staff fluent in those languages. We also began to advertise our programs outside of the library in order to reach non-library users. We also began to advertise our programs outside of the library in order to reach non-library users. While we do not have statistics to indicate how many of our participants have obtained employment, it is evident that their skills and confidence have improved as a result of the program.