Augusta Library, Rotary partner to help older population seeking jobs

Augusta County Library 2By Lynn R. Mitchell

Some have described libraries as the heart of a community, and that is certainly true in Augusta. Working with the community, the Augusta County Library has partnered with the local Rotary Club to work with unemployed older workers in their 50s and 60s who are seeking employment in the job market (see Augusta County, Va: Innovations and Solutions):

Finding work seems hard enough when you don’t already have a job, but it gets dramatically harder when navigating the market is vastly different than you remember

Helping people in that situation — people in their 50s and 60s — became a mission for the Augusta County, Va. library, which joined forces with the local Rotary Club to help those jobseekers catch up. Though the county’s 2012 unemployment rate was 5.1 percent, below even Virginia’s 5.6 percent statewide rate, that was of little solace to people who lost their jobs, particularly following the recession.

Library staff, who were already helping people look and apply for jobs online at library branches, needed a more focused approach to do more than provide stopgap assistance.

“There are plenty of employment programs for the disabled, below the poverty line and to help young people find a job, but not many for older people,” said Diantha McCauley, director of the county library. “For many of them, they’re reentering a different jobseeking environment than the last time they had to look for a job. For years, the job market hasn’t entered their minds and a lot has changed.”

The “Job Club” became a part skills-training, part support group meeting twice a month for three months. The support group stepped in because on top of difficulty adjusting technically to a new hiring environment, the stigma of losing a job at that age added another challenge.

“It’s hard to admit you’re looking for a job, especially after you’ve held one for a long time,” McCauley said. “It was empowering for them to share their stories and find out they’re not alone.”

Skills instruction was provided by library staff and Rotary Club members and addressed resume writing, interviewing and personal branding. Staff offered computer instruction and mock interviews. Much of the focus on the actual job search focused on networking, another facet of the changing business environment.

“These days, most people are getting their jobs through their contacts, not the want ads,” McCauley said, adding that the want ads themselves have largely gone digital. As a result, she said, there’s an increased emphasis on social networking.

The culminating exercise in the three-month session is a cocktail party, attended by participants and members of the Rotary Club, who would provide a dress rehearsal for the job seekers. That meant some preparation, McCauley said, for the delicate balance they would need to strike to make a good impression in that environment. They don’t win points for successfully holding a plate and a drink while juggling conversations, but failure to do so would reflect poorly on them.

“They’re not there to eat; they’re there to network,” she said. “We worked on how to have a conversation, work their ‘elevator speech’ about themselves naturally into the conversation.”

It wasn’t all practice. One participant impressed a Rotary Club member enough during the party that he hired her.

Overall, five of the 45 people who attended at least one meeting of the Job Club reported finding a job, and organizers believe others may have done so without reporting back to the library.

After two years of funding the $2,100 program though a combination of Rotary District grants and matching funds from the local Rotary Club, the program wasn’t renewed. Though McCauley was disappointed, she thinks the instruction and preparation the program provided helped a population that had a unique need at the time, one that may not persist.

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