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According to the latest census information, about 1 in 4 El Pasoans do not have a high school diploma. Once these individuals move into the workforce, opportunities to advance their careers become hindered because they lack a basic high school education. Many become mired in lower level jobs, if they can find work at all. This leads to lower economic attainment that tends to follow these individuals throughout their lives.
Underemployed workers also have an impact on a communities’ economic development efforts due to a perceived lack of skilled or employable workers. Companies that would seek to locate to areas where their business might flourish depend on educated and highly skilled employees more today than ever before. It is imperative that successful, upwardly mobile communities provide educational opportunities for all individuals regardless of their age or economic status.
One of the ways that individuals can overcome obstacles to economic success is through entrepreneurial endeavors. Throughout the United States small businesses, driven by self-employment and supplemental employment, are booming. These efforts are funding better livelihoods for millennials, retirees, and working families nationwide. In El Paso, Texas, supporting entrepreneurs is even more critical. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, localized underemployment earns workers in all major occupational groups 25% less hourly wages than in other comparable cities (BLS, 2016). This problem unjustly affects marginalized people because minorities occupy a greater number of jobs in fields such as construction, which has an even higher percentage of wage gap at 32% less hourly earnings (BLS, 2016).
To answer these challenges, the El Paso Public Library (EPPL) began to reimagine their adult education and economic development assets.
Through its public libraries, the City of El Paso is working to provide basic educational and entrepreneurial services to traditionally underserved communities. The Library set about the process of formalizing their adult basic educational opportunities to help improve the quality of life of El Paso’s citizens. Since that time, EPPL has formalized a robust service and resource offering including:
More recently, EPPL has formalized community partnership with El Paso’s public workforce system, Workforce Solutions Borderplex, as well as a cooperative working relationship with the Small Business Administration (SBA) to provide business and workforce resources and training. Through these partnerships, EPPL will enhance their business and workforce service solutions by providing:
After receiving consistent requests from library patrons for assistance with resume writing, online job searching, and application completion, library staff decided to meet the need with a Job Skills Class. Similar services were already being offered by Borderplex Workforce Solutions, but they did not accommodate patrons with limited writing and computer skills.
After classes were underway, the patrons were once again engaged, and it was realized that entrepreneurship skills were also needed. Classes about starting/growing businesses were offered and resources such as fax machines, scanners, computers, etc. were made available.
Traditional as well as emerging media sources were utilized to reach target audiences. By leveraging the resources provided by the City of El Paso library staff sent press releases to local media and produced video promotions run on the City of El Paso’s television network as well as on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. In-house promotional pieces were placed at all EPPL facilities. Services are also promoted through the EPPL Web site and through the Library APP that has the capability of pushing notifications directly out to patrons.
Promotional outreach visits are also made to organizations such as the Housing Authority of El Paso (HACEP) and Workforce Solutions Borderplex to make sure their staff and patrons are aware of the available programs. Through the use of both public and private partnerships, EPPL has established a reputation as being a place where the public can go for basic adult education, personalized help and resources that serve the community.
Since 2014 EPPL has increased training and adult education significantly. GED students increased from just 161 in 2014 to over 2,400 in 2017. Likewise, citizenship students increased from an estimated 4,800 students to well over 10,000 in just 3 years.
Timeline of Project: Since 2014
Initiator: El Paso Public Library (EPPL)
El Paso Public Library Adult Literacy and Education Center
El Paso, TX – 2018 AAC Winner: Presentation
Director of Libraries, El Paso Public Library