This case study is part of the Spotlight on Local Recovery Efforts series, a feature of the COVID-19 Metro Recovery Watch.
The national system of over 2,400 American Job Centers is locally administered and generally lacks a common baseline of online services that are free for anyone to use. In normal times, job centers rely mostly on the resource-room computers and other in-person resources to allow job seekers to embark on a job search. Typically, there is also a staff person who rotates through the resource room to assist people, as well as a variety of software, websites, or other tools on the desktop computers that help guide job seekers to what they need.
However, in a pandemic, this reliance on job center resource rooms to provide a basic level of career navigation assistance for individuals who are starting a job search is problematic, because most of them are now closed. Rather than every local area diverting precious resources to create new tools to be able to offer remote users more guidance in a basic job search, local areas can instead draw on existing tools that have already been tested from other areas.
The NOVA workforce development board developed the MyPlan job-searching tool, an online resource that is free and hosted on an open-source website. MyPlan walks job seekers through the search process and provides links to helpful resources along the way. It was developed before the pandemic to be paired with one-on-one assistance, and the job center is trying to continue to use the tool in that fashion by making one-on-one assistance available remotely by appointment. MyPlan works on a mobile phone as well, although the functionality is somewhat diminished.
Given the limited resources available for the general public to access one-on-one career guidance, local workforce development boards should collaborate to share promising practices such as this one and establish a baseline standard of service that is available remotely without starting from scratch.
The NOVA workforce development board staff developed MyPlan in 2012. It was designed to give job seekers around-the-clock access to job search resources through open source content that was free for anyone to use. Anyone who seeks to access the services can use the resource online without having to enroll in any specific programs. The career advisors at NOVA also use it as a supplemental tool when working with job seekers.
The content was designed to “stick” in the minds of job seekers using a visual pathway that separates the job search into four phases. It is easy to use and allows people to jump between different resources if they missed something the first time around. It uses visual cues to help guide people with different learning styles. NOVA staffers continually update the content. Over time, they added a video introduction to make it more user-friendly and have added more handouts and worksheets.
Cost and timeframe
There was no specific budget for the development of MyPlan. The NOVA staff created it using their own internal resources. Existing staff taught themselves how to code in HTML and how to produce a YouTube video. NOVA’s IT staff provided back-end support. It is an iterative resource that has been updated regularly over the last eight years.
Key components and features
When the user loads the MyPlan page, there is a short YouTube video that provides an introduction to the job seeker, explaining what the tool is and how the user can navigate it. The video also emphasizes the importance of professional networking in the process of getting a job and making a career transition, and it sets some expectations for job seekers to understand that a job search can take six months or longer. The tool is based on NOVA’s curriculum for job searching, and it was designed for an individual to be able to navigate it without much assistance.
The tool then breaks the job search process into four stages:
- Focus: includes career exploration resources, resources for handling the emotional strain and stress of the job search and unemployment, labor market information, career assessments, career ideas with salary ranges, etc.
- Resume & Application: tools for creating and customizing a resume and other application materials for marketing yourself for a job.
- Job Search & Network: a guide to where you can find job postings at different times, how to network, how to utilize social media (such as LinkedIn or Twitter) in the job search.
- Interview & Negotiate: tips and techniques for having a successful job interview, negotiating the terms of a job offer, and transitioning into a new position.
Here is a screenshot:
The great benefit of this solution is that it is open-source and gathers a lot of resources in a very digestible format for those who are new to current methods of job searching and networking. It is also set up in a manner that is not targeted to a particular area or economy, so it can be easily transferred to other areas with minimal cost.
NOVA staff reported that the MyPlan tool has been invaluable during COVID-19, because it has made the transition to remote services smoother. MyPlan videos are also used in remote workshops that NOVA now conducts, which makes the workshops more interesting.
NOVA staff also reported that having the tool helps increase consistency in access to the job searching curricula, so even if partners such as community colleges or anyone else uses it, job seekers are still using the same tool and curricula throughout the region. It helps ensure that there is consistent use of language across partners and that the labor market information access is shared.
This solution is intended to set a baseline of guidance available online with little staff assistance. Most job seekers or people seeking to make a career transitions will likely need more than just an online guide with resources. Those without internet access or a device (or with low digital skills) are excluded from this resource. In the pandemic, local boards will also need to figure out solutions for people to access a similar level of staff assistance that is available in a resource room, such as help with a question about a resource or guidance in overcoming a technical glitch. This solution could be improved if it included more functionality for mobile phones and potential links to chat or phone access to staff.
The NOVA staff also have some plans for expanding on this tool. NOVA managers Cindy Stahl and Jen Cheyer said, “In the future, we would like funding to produce more video [content] and enable customers to log in and track their progress [through the job search process]. Perhaps we could offer badges and passports and a place to store their resumes, networking lists, and master applications.” Having a log-in may also allow them to track how the overall demand for services compares to the population that is enrolled in the adult or dislocated worker programs under the Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act, which could help identify service gaps or barriers for particular populations of job seekers.
Sources and additional resources:
- NOVA’s Job Search tool: Myplan
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Report Produced by Metropolitan Policy Program