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County lays groundwork for job education program

by Canda HarbaughWestern News
| January 19, 2009 11:00 PM

Historically dependent on natural resources for its economic vitality, Lincoln County has not been an easy place to obtain a steady job for years now.

The county’s unemployment rate is double the state average, and nearly one in five Lincoln County residents live below the poverty line.

Samantha Pierson, director of Lincoln County Public Libraries, is using those gloomy statistics to fuel funding efforts for a countywide program aimed at educating a disadvantaged population in job-seeking skills. 

“There are various agencies doing bits and pieces of (job-seeking education), but they just struggle for time and money and staff,” Pierson said. “This program will provide us with a good way to coordinate.”

Pierson laid the groundwork for the Lincoln County to Work program, spelling out logistical and financial specifics, in a grant proposal to county commissioners last week.

This year the International City/County Management Association, with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is administering $500,000 worth of grants ranging from $20,000-$60,000 to libraries throughout the country.

If awarded the requested $60,000 in February, Lincoln County Public Libraries, in partnership with several county entities, will hire a project coordinator that will develop a series of job preparation seminars and present them in venues countywide.

While free to anyone who wants to participate, the grant proposal suggests focusing on disadvantaged groups, such as the young, undereducated, formerly incarcerated, probationers and those re-entering the workforce, such as mothers and older people.

“We wrote it to focus on some target groups,” said Pierson, “but we really want to help anyone who feels they need more job-seeking skills.”

With the use of nine grant-purchased laptop computers, the program will have access to a traveling computer lab for group presentations and training in any venue. When not in use, they would be available within county libraries for job searches, preparing resumes and practicing for tests and certifications.

The new grant is intended to encourage public libraries to team up with local governments to find and implement solutions to community challenges.

“The idea is that the public libraries would work with county leaders and the library would take a role that is non-traditional,” Pierson said.

If awarded the grant, the project coordinator position will only be active for 17 months, but programs will be created that other library staff and project partners can use and teach.

“The coordinator would build these presentations that any one of the partners could come in and still present,” Pierson said. “They wouldn’t have to do any background work.”

If the library isn’t awarded the grant, Pierson is positive that the Lincoln County to Work program can be held as a future project.

“It’s nice we have the legwork done on it, so if another grant comes up, we can adapt it to that,” Pierson said.

Johnette Watkins, manager of Kootenai Job Service Workforce Center, looks forward to working with Pierson on the project.

“We’re looking to work together to best benefit the community,” Watkins said. “Funding has been cut so much that there is a big drive to leverage resources, instead of duplicating them. We’ve come a long way in doing that.”