Joe had learning disabilities that made high school difficult for him.
“I was good in math but failed everything else, so I just gave up and dropped out,” Joe (last name withheld) wrote in “Stone Soup,” a publication of Pikes Peak Library District’s Adult Education Division.
Adopted by his grandparents after his mother died, and lacking guidance from his absentee father, Joe was a troubled kid as well.
But when he found the library district’s high school equivalency program, Joe formed a plan to complete school and get a job working with cars.
“The PPLD GED program is helping me because I can go at my own pace,” Joe said. “I don’t have to be caught up with everyone else. I can just be me and learn the way that suits me best.”
The library district’s high school equivalency classes are filled with students who left school because of family circumstances or because they didn’t fit in.
The classes are just one resource the library district offers to help people obtain the skills they need to get jobs.
Many businesses know that the library district offers resources for businesses, from market research to personal finance.
The library isn’t often thought of as a source for workforce development.
But workforce development is what these classes are all about, said Mike Bittner, who teaches a high school equivalency class Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Sand Creek Library.
“We’re not just trying to get them a GED,” Bittner said. “We have other partnerships to help them either get a job or get a better job.”
Bittner’s students are prepping to take one of three high school equivalency exams Colorado accepts: the General Educational Development test; the High School Equivalency Test and the Test Assessing Secondary Completion.
They learn the basic skills they need to get a job, but they also learn how to be successful in the workforce.
“There is a reason why they are not successful in traditional schools,” said Teona Shainidze Krebs, who heads the Adult Education Division. “We are not just focused on academic achievement, but also to understand how to be a professional. We sit down and discuss career goals with them and help them think about the future.”
Krebs said adult education classes are offered at many of the district’s branches, but the greatest demand for high school equivalency and English as a second language education is in the southeast region of the city.
The courses are offered for free through federal workforce development grants provided to the library.
“If individuals do not have the means, we want to make sure we help them appropriately,” Krebs said.
The library also offers Career Online High School, an online program in which students can earn both an accredited high school diploma and a career certificate.
Students take courses in language arts, math, social studies and science, plus four electives in their chosen career field.
Areas of career study include certified protection officer, child care and education, commercial driving, food and hospitality, general career preparation/professional skills, home care professional, Homeland Security, hospitality and leisure, office management and retail customer service.
Students take classes online through Gale, a division of Cengage Learning, which provides the library with many online resources. The program is free to students who are accepted.
To earn a spot in the program, students 17 and older must complete a self-assessment and take a two-week prerequisite course. After finishing the prerequisite course, students meet one-on-one with library personnel and take a placement test.
“We interview them to make sure it will work for them,” Krebs said, adding students meet with adult education representatives as they progress.
Students can complete the program in as few as five months by transferring previously earned high school credits, and are given up to 18 months to finish the coursework. The average time to complete is 12 months.
Besides academic skills, students learn to create documents essential to finding a job, including a resumé and cover letter. They also can get assistance in meeting college admissions requirements, such as supplying transcripts.
Libraries increasingly are moving into nontraditional areas such as career preparation and workforce training.
At PPLD, Business Services Librarian Terry Zarsky not only guides business owners through a mountain of resources and online databases, but also helps budding entrepreneurs find out what they need to know to start a business.
“We teach a Thrive class in Southeast at the Sand Creek Library,” Zarsky said.
There are 37 people currently enrolled in two Thrive classes, which meet once a week at the Sand Creek library.
“When they graduate in mid-June, they will have a business plan to go out and start their business,” she said. “We’ve got connections with some of the lenders, so they will be able to get some financial help.”
Entrepreneurs also can make use of tools such as Demographics Now, a database that provides information such as traffic patterns to help them make decisions about where to locate a new business; Reference USA, to generate a list of potential buyers; and Gale’s Small Business Builder, which walks them through the creation of a business plan, Zarsky said.
The resources of the Makerspace at Library 21c, including 3D printing, a laser cutter and sewing machines, also present opportunities for people who want to learn a skill that can translate into the job market. The library offers classes where people can master use of the equipment.
Zarsky recalls one patron who created a dog backpack that enabled his dog to carry its own water while they were hiking.
“So he had a prototype for his product when he went to investors,” Zarsky said. “He actually had samples to show them what it looked like and what he could do.”
Job seekers, too, are finding creative ways to use Makerspace tools to show prospective employers that they have something unique to offer.
In the near future, the library will partner with the Pikes Peak Workforce Center, Emily Griffith Technical College and Hillside Community Center to offer a culinary quick start certification program.
The four-week program, which will be offered beginning May 6 at the community center, will qualify students to enter the workforce as prep or line cooks. At the conclusion of the course, students will be able to meet prospective employers at a job fair.
“That’s one way we try and connect with employers,” Krebs said.