What is it about Tennessee and job search buses, and why don’t more places follow its lead?
When writing about Memphis Public Library’s JobLINC: Mobile Bus for Job Seekers and Employers recently, we also discovered that the entire state is covered by mobile One-Stop-type units that reach remote rural corners of Tennessee, as well as jails, prisons and homeless shelters.
The program is known as Career Coach – as in bus but also as in career counselor. And the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development operates three buses that cover the entire state.
The story of the Career Coach goes way back to the 1970s with a mobile unit that only lasted for a short time. But the information about it remained in the department’s files so no one would forget. And they didn’t. In 2011, the department applied for – and was granted – funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to buy three buses and outfit them to reach as many job seekers as possible.
The buses are like RVs, and each one has 10 laptops, a network printer, fax machine and copier, a 42” flat-screen TV with SmartBoard overlay, and a DVD/CD player, as well as high-speed satellite Internet. The Career Coaches also have career specialists who can help people with resumes and other things they need to do to get ready for job interviews.
Each bus is stationed in a different part of the state – one in Knoxville, another in Nashville and the third in Huntington in West Tennessee.
“We have made it an extension of our brick-and-mortar American Job Center,” said Nicholas Bishop, director grants and special projects of the Tennessee Dept. of Labor & Workforce Development, which oversees the Career Coach program. “We take the buses to prisons and jails. Even though they may be in a metro area that has access to a career center, the inmates may have restraints going to those centers,” he said.
Last month the three units combined provided service to 1,031 people at 73 events in 40 different Tennessee counties. Thanks to the use of backpacks with computers, mobile printers and Wi-Fi, the department can have two events going on at the same time.
“We’re kind of like the job squad,” said Bishop.
Chambers of commerce, churches, county jails and organizations can request a visit by a Career Coach online. Events are publicized by the organizations, as well as through Facebook, Twitter and email blasts to everyone in the area who is registered in the database. They’ve had anywhere from 10 to 200 people at an event.
The Career Coaches also go to jails and prisons five to 10 times per month and work with probation and parole offices. And last July, the department got all three units certified as testing sites for the HiSET (High School Equivalency Test).
“The problem we have in Tennessee is a lot of people who lack the high school credential don’t have convenient access to a testing site,” said Bishop. Inmates might take classes in jail but would have to be bussed two hours to take the test. “The mobile units are testing sites, and our team can go into a county jail facility and convert it into a testing site for the day.”
In April, the department administered the high school exam to 80 people, and 55 of those were incarcerated. “We hope that we can help rehabilitate inmates while they’re incarcerated and keep them from going back to jail,” Bishop said.
On some occasions the Career Coach career specialists offer workshops on resume writing, interviewing and basic computer skills. “We do them if an organization requests it but also provide one-on-one services for people who need help with resumes and other things,” he said.
In addition, company recruiters occasionally come on board. “They’ll interview people and do the drug screening right on the bus, and several people have been offered a job right on the spot,” Bishop said.
Not too long ago, the Career Coach went to Dickson near Nashville to begin recruiting employees for Dal-Tile’s newest manufacturing plant. The company not only concentrated on interviewing prospective employees but provided an info session for the community to get ready for the plant’s opening early next year. And it proved that the Career Coach can be used in many ways.
Other states are you listening?