Take Lessons. Earn Badges. Find Work?

Unemployed businesswoman with cardboard sign - job wanted.
Unemployed businesswoman with cardboard sign - job wanted.

It may be hard to imagine, in the wake of the IPOs of social networking companies and the advances in devices like the iPhone 5 that allow people to connect to the Internet, that there are people in 2012 in the United States who still do not use the Internet. One in five Americans fall into this category, according to Pew Research Center.

One in five Americans cannot check a movie time, make a purchase or connect with friends and family members using the Internet. If one in five Americans cannot do any of the above, one in five Americans certainly cannot find a job online. This also means that one in five Americans do not possess the skills necessary to qualify for many of the jobs available today.

This is not just grandparents or "older people" as is often the stereotype advanced of the non-Internet user: they are Millennials, veterans, single parents and hard workers trying to the re-enter the job market after a former career where Internet use may not have been required. These are the users of platforms like JobScout, seeking to arm the unemployed with the Internet skills necessary to find employment and succeed in our economy.

JobScout is a startup that was never meant to be a startup. The platform arose from a partnership of the California State Library, spearheaded by State Librarian Stacey Aldrich, and a call to action to the LINK AMERICAS Foundation, the foundation responsible for shepherding the nation's first statewide effort to tackle digital literacy through California. The call to action was to create something to aid the millions of California library patrons who rely on the libraries for their Internet access and source of employment information.

JobScout's formula is simple: users take lessons, earn badges for completing those lessons and apply those lessons to find work. JobScout's mission is challenging: the platform's goal is to teach people how to use the Internet by using the Internet. JobScout's founding team, Christina Gagnier, Carter Fort and Stephanie Margossian often comment that using an online platform to teach offline learners was either the "best or worst idea we have ever had." Yet, the platform uses another non-traditional approach: it works through local entities, such as libraries, training staff to be the offline entry point and support network for new Internet users.

JobScout teaches the essential Internet skills needed to find a job in today's online marketplace. At first glance, this may seem elementary. There is a focus in the online education space on continuing education and opening up the university, giving users access to college courses or advanced computer skills, like coding. As JobScout CEO Christina Gagnier puts it, "Our users need to master what a URL is before they can even think about the possibility of coding in HTML."

Like other online learning platforms, JobScout uses gamification of its educational materials to engage users in a fully guided process of learning everything about navigating the Internet. The platform provides over 30 lessons to users, ranging from "Introduction to Internet Browsing" to "Using the Internet to Prepare for an Interview." For each lesson a user completes, they earn a badge. The platform provides a ResumeBuilder allowing users to create fill-in-the-blank resumes, a job search function and the ability to apply to jobs and manage job applications directly from the site.

The platform, still in beta but available nationwide, is in over 600 libraries in California and will be available to every library in California by the end of 2012. Outside of the libraries, K-12 education institutions have begun to subscribe to JobScout to use the tools in their workforce and adult education programs.
JobScout is free for users and available online. Native mobile applications are being developed for iOs, set to launch in late 2012, and for Android, set to launch in 2013. The platform will also launch a version in Spanish in 2013, addressing the growing employment and education needs of the Spanish speaking population in the United States.

Without an understanding of where to access or how to log online, for many out of work Americans, a lack of Internet access often makes finding any kind of employment unusually difficult. Teaching digital literacy skills is vital to our growing economy and the decline of unemployment numbers. JobScout's Chief Operating Officer Stephanie Margossian sums up the role of JobScout in our economic recovery and future best: "This is not about fitting people into our old economy. It's about preparing them for our new one."