The US government is spending $1.5 billion on career information and assistance for American workers, job seekers, and employers through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), first implemented in 2013. On Saturday morning at the ALA Annual Conference in Orlando, the ALA Washington Office brought together a panel of librarians and state workforce experts to show how public libraries can get funding as eligible providers to collaborate with job centers to provide recruitment, digital training, and consultation services to workers who need reemployment—activities that many libraries are already doing for their patrons.
Mimi Coenen, chief operating officer for the nonprofit CareerSource in central Florida, said that the WIOA now specifically authorizes public libraries to play an official role as partners with workforce centers. “Knowledge of technology is mandatory for most jobs,” she said. “Libraries can help with tech training, especially since there are many public libraries in central Florida but only six career centers.”
Stephen Parker, legislative director of the Education and Workforce Committee for the National Governors Association, added that public librarians can “make a good case to governors, state educational agencies, and local school boards” about why they should be partnering with state employment agencies. School libraries also have an “opportunity for rethinking their role in increasing academic achievement,” thanks to the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act, which authorizes funding in support of digital literacy and after-school programs.
Trina Travis, a senior management analyst for the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, said that her agency welcomes the support of libraries in “serving the most vulnerable workers—including low-income adults, youth, and ex-offenders—in tech training, résumé writing, and job searches.”
Two librarians chimed in with their own success stories. Alta Porterfield, Inspiration Space coordinator for the Delaware Division of Libraries, said that when she first went to the state department of labor to offer assistance in workforce expansion, libraries were initially seen as competitors. However, after she reviewed for them all the programs libraries were already engaged in, Porterfield convinced them that they were collaborators and could serve as extension agencies for computer classes and other reemployment efforts. She soon received an official invitation for the state’s 33 libraries to become WIOA partners.
Renae Rountree, director of the Washington County Public Library in Florida’s panhandle, emphasized that libraries “need to brag about what they do to the right people.” After the local workforce agency was made aware of the “incredible resources and training programs” that her libraries provide, they granted her 30 desktop computers and 15 laptops—something her library could not have afforded otherwise—for assisting job-seeking patrons.
For more information of workforce‒library partnerships, see http://www.ala.org/advocacy/advleg/federallegislation/workforce.