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Tech help for job hunters renewed

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2016-02-29

As seen in the Times Argus: http://www.timesargus.com/article/20160229/NEWS01/160229640/0/NEWS05

MONTPELIER — Job seekers who are computer-challenged have a new technology tool at their fingertips.

Beginning in March, six libraries across Vermont will have student interns on hand six hours a week to help patrons learn how to navigate the Internet, search for work, and explore career development opportunities. The program runs through May at libraries in Barre, Brattleboro, Newport, Rutland, St. Johnsbury and Winooski.

The “Job Hunt Helpers” program is a partnership between the Vermont Department of Libraries and Community College of Vermont, funded by a $25,000 grant from the Burlington-based J. Warren and Lois McClure Foundation.

“Digital literacy in this day and age is a requirement of the job search process or even applying for a job,” said McClure Foundation philanthropic advisor Carolyn Weir. “You need an e-mail address, know how to surf the Internet using a search engine, and how to do job postings.

“The libraries are (positioned) to serve as a resource to the population that we’re talking about or Vermonters that need additional support,” she added.

The free program is aimed at anyone who needs to improve their computer skills, including high school and college students, job seekers and existing workers, senior citizens, and veterans.

Skills that can be learned include Internet search engine usage, how to establish e-mail and Facebook accounts, cover letter and résumé writing tips, interview techniques, and career advancement strategies.

A key part of the new program is access to Learning Express Library (LEP), an online learning platform provided by the Vermont Department of Libraries through federal grant funding designed to increase digital access in rural areas and promote job growth and professional development.

LEP provides a multitude of online resources to help computer users and job seekers develop online skills in reading, writing, math and science; provide tools for job searches and career development; and practice modules for high school GED and college SAT testing and occupational entrance and licensing exams. There are also Spanish-language components and courses on preparing for becoming a U.S. citizen or getting a green card.

Vermont Librarian Marty Reid was on hand at a training session last week at CCV in Montpelier for students to prepare them for the library program beginning in March. Students sat through an hourlong webinar session to explain the LEP online program they will share with library patrons. It was followed by a computer lab session to understand guidelines to help Internet beginners, develop job application skills, and learn how to log help sessions with library patrons, survey their responses, and track outcomes.

“I think they were the perfect group of students,” said Reid. “I like the fact they all said something about helping people (with computer competency), and I think they will give people a lot of satisfaction.”

She credited the McClure Foundation with its support and funding of job creation and career development in Vermont. “They have been really interested in job training, career exploration and getting Vermonters on a path to a good job,” said Reid. “They came to us and said they would like to fund this pilot project in libraries.”

Reid added that if the pilot program is successful, it is hoped to attract additional funding and support to extend it to include job-search offerings at the Vermont Department of Labor, adult education services, and schools.

“Some people have had a job, need additional skills to keep a job, or if they want to advance, they need more computer skills,” said Reid. “We need a comprehensive way to teach people how to use computers.”

She also noted that the McClure Foundation has been dedicated to improving rates for students completing college education. “High school graduation rates in Vermont are good, but college completion rates are not so good, so the McClure Foundation has been working on this for a number of years,” Reid added.

Among many education grants from the McClure Foundation, CCV receives funding for career counselors to help students prepare for the workplace.

CCV students present at the Job Hunt Helpers training were equally enthusiastic about their role in the program. Ranging in age from 19 to 48, they represented a diversity of ambition and opportunity to further their own learning and careers while helping others do the same.

“It’s been 15 years since I was in work, because I spent 15 years taking care of kids,” said Kim Payne, 48, of St. Johnsbury, who is studying psychology and hopes to build a career in gerontology, caring for senior citizens. “I’m looking for a job and this program will provide some training for me. I also think there’s a big need for job help for others.”

John Capitanelli, 24, of Montpelier, is a CCV business studies student. “I served in AmeriCorps for two years, so I’m all about helping other people,” he said. “I also have a role in the learning center at CCV helping other people with education. I want to help people put themselves out there, develop a resume, and look for a job, tasks that some people may find intimidating.”

Dotit Tshabamba, 34, of Winooski (and formerly from the Democratic Republic of Congo), said, “My career advisor helped me to find this opportunity, working with people to expand their computer skills. Most of the people I know speak French, and it’s hard for them to look for a job. This is a great opportunity for me to help them apply for a job and start a new life.”

Ben Howe, 24, of Brattleboro, added, “I know a lot of people are looking for a job and trying to build their skills, and I think it would be great if I could do something to help those people.”

CCV Director of Learning Technologies Eric Sakai, who has been with CCV for 31 years, said all the students were selected for their demonstrated dedication to learning. “These six students are leaders in their respective CCV centers, either working in the learning centers as tutors, or because they’ve demonstrated their commitment to CCV,” he said.

Sakai said the importance of computer literacy could not be ignored, noting that one third of all 7,000 CCV students — the single largest student body in Vermont — were either involved in computer-related studies or relied on computers as distance learners to study.

Sakai noted that the Job Hunter Helpers program is the successor to “Internet Interns,” a similar program from 2011 to 2014 that placed 24 CCV interns in town libraries across the state to help Vermonters use the Internet for education, career development, health care research, and communicating with family and friends via social media.

“During the first time round, we logged over 1,000 entries of contact by the public with students in libraries,” said Sakai.

“I think the response from them about the help they received from our students was entirely grateful, and the library staff was also very happy with the assistance,” said Sakai. “We got some great responses. Not everybody is going to come back to us and say something, but many did, and said ‘I got a job. I couldn’t have done it without you.’”

Internet Interns — on which Job Hunt Helpers is modeled — was part of the e-Vermont Community Broadband Project, administered by the Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD) and funded by a $2.5 million Sustainable Broadband Adoption grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce, with additional grants and in-kind support from other corporate and nonprofit partners, including the Vermont State Colleges, of which CCV is a member institution, and the Vermont Department of Libraries.

In 2013, VCRD received a $1.8 million federal disaster relief grant from the federal Economic Development Administration following Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. The grant, also supplemented by corporate and nonprofit partners, was aimed at helping Vermont communities respond to and recover from emergencies like Irene with Internet and other technology resources. In 2012, between the awards of these two major grants, CCV also received a $10,000 grant from the Vermont Community Foundation to sustain the Internet Interns project.

For more information about the Job Hunter Helpers program, contact participating libraries.