California Libraries Now Offer Free Online Courses To Help People Learn New Professional Skills

While in between accounting jobs, Leslie Fong strives to improve her Excel skills through advanced online courses at the South San Francisco Library.

“They are stellar,” she said of the library. “I’ve never been to a place with so many free lesson offers. They are my salvation.

Libraries have a long history of helping job seekers in their mission as a community hub connecting people to essential services and resources.

Now state libraries are adding a wide range of free software to help clients learn new professional and academic skills, earn professional certificates, and prepare for in-demand jobs. It comes at a crucial time as workers returning from pandemic layoffs seek new positions, 1.4 million Californians are unemployed and 4.8 million are “functionally unemployed,” meaning they have no stable jobs remunerated above the poverty line, according to a new study.

With a $ 4.4 million grant from the American Rescue Plan Act, California created a program called Career path to give library patrons free access to thousands of online courses from six providers: Coursera, GetSetUp, LearningExpress, LinkedIn Learning, Northstar and Skillshare.

The courses cover the gamut from Salesforce certification to using a mouse to start a business.

“I have never seen a library offer such a large offering,” said Stacy Lein, adult services librarian at the South San Francisco Public Library. She began to use Coursera to study music theory for her own enrichment.

She is enthusiastic about promoting it so that people become aware of the new wealth of resources available. Now when librarians see clients working on their resumes, “That’s when you say, ‘Oh, by the way, did you know we have this opportunity for the public? ” ” she said.

Most courses are available in several languages. People can pick them up from their own computers or can use them at their local branch offices.

“The main audience is women who have dropped out of the workforce (because there is no daycare,” said Greg Lucas, state librarian. “The easiest and most convenient way to reach that audience is to use online products that they can access at home. ”

But there are also a lot of other potential users. “If you have a cognitive or physical repetitive job, think about what you want to do next, as soon as possible,” Lucas said. “It helps people do it; he meets them where they live.

Of the 184 library jurisdictions in California (ranging from a single library in Modoc County to 88 in Los Angeles County), 172 will offer the program, Lucas said.

Jeff Maggioncalda, CEO of Mountain View’s Coursera, said its technology certificate programs are licensed by companies such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Salesforce, IBM and Intuit, making them direct pipelines to hiring.

“These courses (have) a more job-related sensitivity: what does it take to get a certain job; what skills are required, ”he said. For example, “There is a high demand for IT support professionals and not enough skilled people to do it. You don’t need a BA. It pays well and can be done from a distance. It is a very attractive job, accessible to people if they have access to skills development.

Most Coursera certificate programs consist of four or five courses. On average, a certificate takes about five months, but people who put in more hours per week can do so in as little as a month, he said. Certificate programs typically cost $ 49 per month. Coursera’s classes are tailored to your pace and on-demand, although live support is available from peers in focus groups, and is currently testing live coaching.

The six online schools now available in libraries each have different content and entry points:

• Coursera offers more than 5,000 courses taught by businesses, universities and organizations, including the “Gateway Certification” for people without a university degree or experience to acquire skills for the tech jobs in demand.

• LinkedIn Learning offers professional certificate courses; skills for disembarking work such as introducing yourself and advice on routine maintenance matters; and “soft skills” such as resilience, teamwork and time management.

• GetSetUp offers live courses for people aged 50 and over, covering digital learning (initiations to YouTube and Zoom, for example); physical, mental and social health; and professional skills.

• SkillShare offers video courses in entrepreneurship, graphic design, productivity, marketing, data analysis and time management for people looking to grow a business and / or learn new skills.

• LearningExpress helps prepare for exams, including professional exams to be a police officer, air traffic controller, EMT, firefighter, nurse, teacher, real estate salesperson, or plumber, as well as academic exams such as college placement tests.

• Northstar focuses on people with little or no technical skills, teaching them to use computers and the Internet in everyday life, employment and higher education.

One of the advantages of the program is that it is an organized package, making it easier for people to focus on what is useful.

“We live in a world of endless information, products and services,” Lucas said. “The most important thing is to help someone find the needle they want in the information haystack. People can easily find what they are looking for (through Career Pathways) instead of scouring the Internet.

The federal grant covers one year; after that, libraries will need the state to allocate money, he said.

The program is also helping to bridge the digital divide. For people who don’t have computers at home, California libraries have 23,000 fixed terminals, as well as dozens of laptops – which can also be accessed with hotspots for Internet connectivity.

“For the people who say, ‘Oh libraries, are people still going to them,’ they’re more important now than they’ve ever been,” Lucas said.

Carolyn Said is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @csaid