Workforce 1 Expansion Centers
Brooklyn Public Library, New York Public Library, Queens Library, N.Y.
To help meet the increased need for job placement services, New York City’s three library systems have partnered with the City’s Department of Small Business Services to launch Workforce1 Career Centers within branch library locations. Since opening last fall, three library-based Workforce1 Centers have made 742 job placements.
New York City’s libraries have long provided a wide range of free services for job seekers, such as interviewing and job search workshops, resume writing assistance, computer training, and career assessment and exploration software. Yet, they had never been able to offer on-site some of the most important resources for job seekers: actual job placement and recruiting services. New Yorkers who have lost their jobs as a result of the recession have been visiting libraries in great numbers looking for help finding a job. They have been seeking information on career changes, on finding job prospects outside of New York City and on starting businesses. Some have even looked to work for the libraries. Many have left disappointed. Despite the great array of job-related programming offered by the city’s three systems, the recently-unemployed simply want to get back to work as quickly as they can. They appreciate the libraries’ computer classes and workshops and they like having a place to go in the morning to send out cover letters and maintain a semblance of structure to their weekdays. They even appreciate getting a chance to volunteer for the libraries to share their skills, which many unemployed New Yorkers have done since 2008. Yet, what they want most of all was something the libraries were not offering. To provide the highest level of service for their patrons, New York City’s libraries needed to find a way to directly link jobseekers with employers looking to expand their workforces.
Key Elements of Innovation
In 2009, during the height of the recession, New York City’s Workforce1 Career Centers experienced a fifty-fold increase in job placements—from 500 placements in 2008 to 25,000 placements in 2009. The centers, which are administered by the NYC Department of Small Business Services, prepare and connect qualified applicants to job opportunities. In December 2010, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that over the next year the city would seek to open ten new Workforce1 locations. The proposed expansion presented a wonderful opportunity to enhance the employment resources already offered at the City’s three library systems. Marking the beginning of a unique partnership, the three library systems and the city worked together to select appropriate library sites to house four new Workforce1 Centers. In Fall 2011, three Workforce1 Expansion Centers opened in public libraries—one each in Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Library and Sunset Park Library and one in the Queens Library’s Flushing Library. This summer, a new Workforce1 Center will open in New York Public Library’s Francis Martin Branch in the Bronx. While libraries have effectively partnered with outside organizations for decades, the partnership with Small Business Services is truly unique. First and foremost, libraries have typically been reluctant to give up, on a quasi-permanent basis, the amount of valuable physical space that is required by the expansion centers. Each center is between one thousand and two thousand square feet. Existing programs have been or will be relocated in order to accommodate the centers. Moreover, each member of the partnership benefits equally. The libraries capitalize on the valuable services that the centers provide, while the centers capitalize on both the foot traffic that the libraries generate and their reputation as reliable sources of information.
Since launching in the fall of 2011, the three library-based Workforce1 Expansion Centers have referred 2721 New Yorkers to interviews that have resulted in 742 job placements. Additionally, to ensure appropriate referrals to the expansion centers, librarians have received customized training from Workforce Professionals Training Institute. Library staff members were instructed on how to engage with and assess the needs of job seekers, provide resume, cover letter and interview preparation, and assist job seekers navigating around barriers to employment. These developments have been invaluable to New Yorkers throughout the city. Now people can visit the library to accomplish all of the steps involved in becoming workforce-ready: from learning English, improving literacy skills, and editing cover letters and resumes, to learning computer skills and ultimately, getting referred to companies that are hiring. A tangential benefit to the partnership is the increased visibility that libraries have received because of the expansion centers, especially among the libraries’ most crucial funders. At a February press conference announcing the partnership, Mayor Bloomberg said, “Libraries have always served as gateways to opportunity, so they make great locations for our career counseling and job placement services.” The Workforce1 Expansion Center Initiative demonstrates the great opportunities that can arise when city agencies partner with not-for-profit institutions to find innovative, mutually-beneficial solutions to the challenges they face. As a result of the initiative, thousands of New Yorkers will be placed in new jobs, the libraries will increase their relevance and visibility in their communities, and the City will enjoy the convenience of using existing space and a built-in audience for its programming.