Since the recession began, one unlikely sector has played an increasing role in workforce development: libraries.
Across the state, people are walking past the aisles of books straight to library help desks and computers to write résumés, navigate online job applications and search for unemployment benefits.
So when it came to creating new opportunities for job-seekers, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment looked to libraries. The result is a group of virtual workforce centers that began this month in more than 50 rural libraries across the state.
Whether through the librarys existing computers or the addition of a new computer station, the workforce center project will provide online access to the job-search services found at the state departments brick-and-mortar employment offices. Each computer will provide direct access to a website and eventually a webpage that will provide a central hub of information for job-seekers, including information about unemployment benefits, skills training, social-service assistance and jobs. Next summer, the department hopes to add video-conferencing capabilities, so library patrons can have virtual meetings with workforce center case workers or employment specialists.
Locally, libraries in Bayfield, Silverton, Durango, Mancos, Cortez, Dolores, Dove Creek and Pagosa Springs are participating. Ignacios Pine River Community Learning Center also will have a virtual workforce center.
The project is an additional resource for anyone who is unemployed or underemployed, especially people in communities such as Silverton and Dove Creek that are far from a workforce center, said Chloe Wiebe, the regional supervisor for the Colorado Workforce Center.
The project focuses on rural areas because people in those areas are less likely to have convenient access to workforce centers, said Jodi Foster, the project coordinator for the virtual workforce centers.
More and more, libraries have stepped up to help job-seekers as people flock to them for assistance. Since the recession began, libraries have seen a 39 percent increase in people looking for workforce services, Foster said.
At the Durango Public Library, Assistant Director Sandy Irwin sees people every day who are searching for jobs, filling out applications online or typing up their résumé.
There are still a lot of people who havent crossed over the digital divide, and they need help, Irwin said. Many dont have access to computers or high-speed Internet, she said.
From all walks of life, they are all coming in and seeking help they havent needed before, she said.