When Lead the Change came to Darien, CT, on September 18, B.A. David Company founder David Bendekovic called on a variety of local experts to add their experiences to the core presentation. Among those experts was Matt Poland, CEO of Hartford, CT, Public Library (HPL), who shared the story of how Hartford started a library-based outplacement service that didn’t cost a dime.
As with Southlake, TX, Public Library’s Virtual Library Program, the program came about when a pre-existing library priority happened to strike a chord in conversation with a local organization representative.
HPL has long provided access to materials for finding a job and changing careers, Poland told LJ. That’s a major need in Hartford, whose unemployment rate is currently over 17 percent, more than twice the national average of 8.4 percent. The collection, both in print and online, “was fairly well used, but largely self-driven.” Poland and his staff were exploring the idea of taking it to the next level: “public outplacement, like they do in the private sector,” which would “focus on an individual’s needs in a more holistic way than developing a resume. They could sit down with a counselor or a career agent talk about where they’ve been, what their skills are, get a plan developed, and participate in workshops.”
HPL was in the early stages of identifying grants to fund such a project when he connected with the Executive Director of the region’s workforce development board, Capital Workforce Partners, at a meeting for an unrelated adult literacy initiative.
The Executive Director told Poland that Capital Workforce Partners was having trouble getting Hartford residents from beyond the immediate neighborhood to utilize the city’s sole OneStop center in their job searches.
They teamed up to solve both problems by creating CTWorks@HPL. CTWorks transferred two career agents to HPL’s main library, where they have offices in the 2000-square-foot job and career area, which also boasts 16 dedicated computer stations and modular open space. CTWorks would have paid those agents anyway, so there was no increased cost to the agency, and all the library had to provide was space for them to work. “They started out with limited hours, but now they cover all the hours” that the library is open, Poland told LJ.
“People comment that they prefer coming to the library [rather than the OneStop]. It’s welcoming; it’s open; it’s easy to deal with,” Poland said. “The OneStops had this feel of the unemployment office.” Besides that positive atmosphere (and potentially less stigma), the library is centrally located, and already attracts high traffic, likely making more people aware of the services. (The reverse is true as well: Poland says the services are bringing new people into the library.)
But the library location’s most important advantage to CTWorks is what Poland calls “wraparound services”: the career agents refer their clients to the library-offered citizenship resources, language classes, and digital literacy help as needed. “Where better to do that than the library? It’s where we do it anyway,” Poland commented.
The most common referral so far is to the library’s English language skills training, but digital tools is second and growing, according to Poland, in part because even positions that don’t require computer use on the job often require a digital application.
Poland was careful to preserve the library’s traditional focus on confidentiality and privacy. The Career Agents collect data on patrons who use their services, but “they bring their own database,” Poland said. The library and librarians don’t collect data on patrons using library programs or resources. Patrons are told upfront that if they don’t want any tracking done, they can use only the library’s job and career services, not the agents’. But, says Poland, “that hasn’t happened yet.”
Since the service debuted July 1—a soft opening, the official Grand Opening ceremony with the CT Governor and Hartford Mayor will take place in October—the counselors have seen 625 people who they’re following through the process. “It’s busy all day long,” said Poland. About a dozen patrons have found jobs so far, and the goal is to reach 100 people who find jobs through CTWorks@HPL in the first year.