New tech tools help displaced workers find jobs

  • Wed Apr 19th, 2017 10:00pm
  • News

One week after the closure of Pacific Hardwoods was announced, two of the company’s laid off employees walked into the Raymond Timberland Library and began a job search. This time, they had a powerful new tool: Chromebook laptops acquired through a partnership between Timberland Regional Library and Pacific Mountain Workforce Development Council.

In a pilot program funded by Pacific Mountain, every library in Pacific County now has two of the laptops, which have no time limits and can be used to create resumes, look for work, and learn new skills through extensive free training programs like Lynda.com and Microsoft Imagine Academy.

“This is such a massive game changer, “said Timberland Regional Library Director Cheryl Heywood. “These are tools that can completely change lives. It’s an incredible opportunity for people to embrace their futures.” The partnership between the two agencies is a natural fit, she said. “(The library) has been helping people trying to find jobs with resume writing and job interview skills since 1968.”

The project was set in motion more than three years ago when Pacific Mountain Executive Director Cheryl Fambles and Heywood met to discuss how their organizations could work together. More recently, a team from Pacific Mountain asked the county’s Timberland Regional Library staff what would improve the lives of their patrons.

“Across the board, all of us said ‘access,’” said Jenny Penoyar, library manager in South Bend. “That’s the biggest challenge for people looking for jobs. We have two Worksource offices in Raymond and Long Beach but they’re not open all the time and their locations are not the easiest to get to. They don’t always have staff available for people who need help.”

While the libraries offered internet access, it came with time limits, a frequent source of frustration for job seekers.

“The system shuts down every couple of hours,” said Raymond Library Manager Emily Popovich. “We had a recent example of someone who needed to get her food handler’s permit. The machine gave her a first warning, but then it shut off and she lost all the work she’d been doing.”

Now patrons can use the laptops for as long as it takes to complete the work they need. “They can go from searching for jobs to typing up a resume without a time limit and there’s an option for them to print out documents,” said Popovich. “It’s easy to use and they can sit anywhere in the library. If we have something like a children’s program happening, they can go in the other room.”

Library personnel are also on hand to answer questions and walk patrons through the process. “We have resources easily available with staff that can help them with writing resumes, learning how to use spellcheck and understanding how to use computers,” said Penoyar. “A lot of people here have worked in a mill their whole lives and haven’t been in a position to learn those skills.”

When she first moved to the area in 2007, the local mill drastically reduced the workforce and simultaneously the paper mill in Aberdeen closed. “There was a real economic downturn,” said Penoyar. “Half of Raymond and South Bend were unemployed.”

Popovich has seen similar effects. “There are a lot of displaced and unemployed people in this area,” she said. “We have a changing logging industry and one that definitely offers fewer jobs. That issue is now compounded by Pacific Hardwoods closing.”

That’s one of the reasons Pacific Mountain chose Pacific County to launch the pilot. Unemployment runs as high as 8.5 percent in four out of the five counties served by both the library and Pacific Mountain.

The partnership is just one of many ways the public workforce system is becoming more responsive and developing alternative methods for those they serve to gain access to resources. “We want people to understand that we’re here to help them,” said Fambles. “We’re going to be moving more and more into the space where how we deliver services is in partnership with other entities.”

Part of the challenge for both agencies is simply letting people know what tools are available — at no cost to them. Gradually, residents have been coming to understand the resources that exist through their local library.

“Once people learn how much we can do to help them, they’re really surprised and then really excited,” said Penoyar. “We’re an undiscovered treasure for a lot of people.”

An annual online survey of library patrons found that of 2,800 respondents, 604 answered questions about employment, 171 said they had used the system to apply for a job, 98 had gotten an interview, and 67 were hired.

Library staff have been going through the job search process themselves to work out any kinks in advance. “At this point everything is working,” said Penoyar. “We’re very excited about it.”