Employment resources: How KDL helps job seekers elevate their search, sharpen skills for success

Employment is a widely talked about, multi-faceted subject, constantly changing, especially over the last year. With record numbers of Michiganders on unemployment, many for the first time ever, the jobseeker market is now extremely competitive. As workplaces reopen, many of them are left understaffed, forcing employers to reevaluate what kinds of incentives they’re offering potential hirees. For the jobseeker, this process might seem a bit overwhelming, but Kent District Library (KDL) and community partners, like West Michigan Works!, have many valuable resources in place for community members looking to gain new employment or shift careers entirely. 

Sara Proaño, KDL's community engagement manager, knows that each jobseeker is potentially at a different step in the process and therefore, KDL offers a wide variety of employment resources. Language barriers, technology barriers and other barriers to access exist, impacting job seekers throughout the process of seeking employment. 

“We have a wide variety of databases that can help people update their skills or access a new skill from courses and training,” Proaño says. This assistance focuses “on the side of preparing to go back to the job market, career exploration, or even some professional development." 

Updated databases including Linkedin Learning, which provide job seekers with robust research options as well as certificate programs to learn or polish skills. “This is kind of like the self-service side of the Library, access is for everyone that has a library card and is open 24/7. Aside from that, the Library is a place where people come to do some job exploration or navigation of what options they have, updating their resume, etc.”

KDL also offers language translation services and software to remove language barriers that might otherwise prevent applicants from the job market. Proaño says it’s important that KDL remains active and dynamic when it comes to providing resources for the community’s needs and desires. “Librarians are always so kind and helpful to provide any resource that the patrons need. We also try to have a presence in the world of the workforce development agencies to keep up with what they’re doing, so we can give the fresh and newest information to our patrons.”

KDL participates with the Essential Needs Task Force (ENFT), coordinated with Kent County and United Way. “That is the place we go to try to understand what’s happening in the job market, what skills are needed, etc.,” says Proaño. “KDL participates with them and tries to align with what they are doing and understand how we fit with the agencies who are doing this type of work.”

One of the agencies that was created solely to help the community with employment, at its heart, is West Michigan Works!, as Chief Operation Officer Angie Barksdale can attest.

“We partner with the Library in a variety of these things like workshops on resume writing, interviewing, job search skills, soft skills, etc.,” Barksdale says, “which reflects the West Michigan Works’ mission and their daily work within the community, across eight locations across the seven-county region covered.”

West Michigan Works! provides computer banks, copy machines and technology assistance for job seekers to help with filling out applications online or on paper, for no cost. 

“If someone is in need of more one-on-one services, we will find out if they’re eligible for some of our programs. We can walk them through a career pathway plan, potentially pay scholarships for training, etc.,” Barksdale says. Many employers have revised their job descriptions or even edited their application process to make the applications less time-consuming and easier for candidates, according to Barksdale. 

When it comes to the employer side of things, Barksdale says the job market is always changing, but even more so within the past nine months. With companies reopening, the demand of job seekers is creating a need for employers to adapt. 

“We’re seeing employers start to offer a variety of things to attract talent, some of those are around the hours/shifts, offering part-time, more flexible hours or longer daytime shifts but less days per week," she says. "We’re seeing companies have employees work 32 hours a week but are paid for 40. We’re also seeing shifts go from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. to accommodate for parents to do pick-up/drop-off at school and more remote work."

According to Barksdale, these changes are not restricted to a specific segment of the market.“We’re seeing that across industries, employers are really trying to be creative in what that scheduling looks like to accommodate,” she says.

Employers are also increasing wages by a few dollars, across the board, regardless of industry, says Barksdale. Some companies are adjusting traditional biweekly pay days to more frequent timeframes, like every week or even next-day pay, in order to attract and retain talent. 

Other creativity within the wage space Barksdale has seen is the use of referral programs, retention bonuses after 90 days of employment, perfect attendance awards, and tuition reimbursement or paid education. 

“Some companies are participating in our services like our Retention Solutions Network, which is a membership-based network. Employers pay to be a member, we provide a dedicated success coach to help any employee with barriers they may have outside of work,” Barksdale says. The coaches can aid with a variety of challenges “including car repairs, automotive issues, housing needs and rental assistance, [even] maneuvering small-term loans at banks,” she adds.

These services can assist employees and help them overcome barriers, which might add extra stress, causing them to not be successful or stay in their jobs. 

Barksdale says when it comes to in-demand job skills, there is a commonality most, if not all, employers are seeking in candidates. “Hard work ethic, showing up on time and being willing to learn and train as they go — those soft skills, those employability skills,” she says. 

For those new in the process of switching careers, curious to research different industries, or find the requirements of a higher-paying job, West Michigan Works! publishes a yearly ‘Hot Jobs’ list. The interactive list provides searchable occupations, links to information, videos, wages, and education required of each position.

“This would be a first step for an individual who doesn’t have a defined career path, to look at in-demand occupations and required skills/education for such,” Barksdale says. 

Photos courtesy of West Michigan Works!

Literacy Matters is a series focused on the importance of knowledge, community resources seeking to remove barriers to access, and the value of our library systems to society. Literacy Matters is supported by Kent District Library. 

Sarah briefly lived in Grand Rapids years ago, before moving back to Lansing, but that West Michigan love never really left her heart. Through her coverage on small businesses, arts and culture, dining, and anything mitten-made, she’s committed to convincing any and everyone -- just how great the Great Lakes state is. Sarah received her degrees in Journalism and Professional Communications. You can find her in a record shop, a local concert, or eating one too many desserts at a bakery. If by chance, she’s not at any of those places, you can contact her at [email protected]
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