Forming A Career Center-Community Bond

by Ursula B. Carmena

During a decade of growth and experience at my company, Aptitude Assessment of Louisiana, I became interested in the availability of career planning in my city. Our local resources included only Job Services serving primarily unskilled labor, university placement services serving their own students and alumni, and several for-profit career-counseling services.

Operating on the premise that a self-reliant, career-resilient workforce strengthens the community as well as individuals, I consulted with numerous area business leaders about establishing a free ongoing program in an accessible venue to assist educated and/or skilled workers in career transition. Such a specific target service at no charge did not exist in our area. We agreed that the Center would provide a valuable resource for area commerce through workforce improvement and outplacement services. This concept of serving the public led directly to our goal of becoming an integral part of one of the community’s most-utilized assets – the library system.

Like a library, this particular Career Center operates by self-help on the part of the client with professional assistance as needed. This sense of near-perfect fit inspired the library’s Director and Board to house the Center during the pilot project phase, and to pledge to take it over as a permanent library service if both community need and client usage were demonstrated. Financing for the pilot project was granted through the Baton Rouge Area Foundation and the Junior League of Baton Rouge. My former company (which I closed to explore this project) donated furniture and supplies.

Now, a year and a half after formally opening at the downtown River Center Branch of the East Baton Rouge Parish library, the Career Center offers the Greater Baton Rouge metropolitan area these and other career development services, all at no charge:

  • A comprehensive, centralized collection of career planning and self-assessment books, videos, audios, DVD’s and CD’s which can be checked out or viewed on site. Pertinent newspapers, magazines and other printed material are also available for reference.

  • A knowledgeable career development professional is always on hand to provide guidance in using the materials, together with the opportunity for one-on-one appointments with a certified career coach. Volunteers and some library personnel assist with office work, client services and publicity.

  • Periodic seminars and workshops on aspects of career planning and job search are offered, along with worksheets and card sort exercises for career planning and lists of useful websites and local employment services.

  • Office technology services, including computers, a printer and copier and comfortable workspaces are provided for clients’ use.

As we projected, our principal strength is in assisting the educated and/or skilled worker of limited financial means. We have found a real need to act as an informed “sounding board” and advisor for workers in career transition, having now coached over 250 clients and provided resource material for another 250, not counting those who checked out books and videos.

The Career Center is open three days a week from 9:00 until 4:00 and maintains a website which will soon include the job postings we are now receiving from area businesses. Over 850 people have been involved in outreach programs in the community – talks, seminars, interviews, etc. The Career Center refers clients to Job Services and private counseling services when appropriate. We also cooperate with these and other agencies in providing programs with handout materials. One goal of the coming year of operation will be increased publicity to advertise our services and more frequent seminars.

Sadly and unexpectedly, the number of people in career transition increased dramatically after the Hurricane Katrina disaster. In the days immediately before and after the storm’s landfall, the population of the greater Baton Rouge area soared. Almost overnight, it became the largest city in Louisiana, a stunning change in our economic and civic needs. Gradually, many evacuees have been able to return to New Orleans or to move to other communities. Yet today, ten months after the storm, Baton Rouge has a stable population increase of over 40,000 people, most of whom are seeking new employment after losing their jobs and assets. We will continue to devise and improve ways to reach these new citizens.

I will continue as Director of the Career Center until it becomes a permanent library service, helping clients become their own career managers. It is a great honor to be on the program at the 2006 NCDA Global Conference discussing this exciting and challenging project. Careers and Community – they go together!

Ursula Bogan Carmena, a member of ACA and NCDA and a Certified Career Coach, graduated from Louisiana State University and has 20 years experience in career development. She is implementing a new Career Center pilot project in the East Baton Rouge Parish library system, having previously directed an assessment and career coaching service called Aptitude Assessment of Louisiana. She can be reached at ucarmena@ebr.lib.la.us or by phone at (225) 381-8434. The Career Center mission can be explored at www.careercenterbr.com.

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