Original Article Posted on American City & County
By Tiki Copeland, business & education coordinator for Riverside County and Judith Villamil, strategic account manager at Monster Government Solutions
With over 2.2 million citizens, Riverside County, Calif., has the fourth largest county population in the state and the 11th-largest county population in the country. Despite this vast residential base, the county has faced challenges encouraging both businesses and citizens to build and grow professional opportunities within Riverside’s boundaries, rather than looking to Los Angeles or Orange County. With more affordable land prices and the promise of shortened commutes, we saw an overwhelming opportunity to boost economic growth in our community.
Our strategy started with engaging our young people. The Riverside County’s Workforce Investment Board’s (WIB) youth program seeks to empower community members between the ages of 16-21, many of which have been identified as “at-risk.” The goal of the program is to improve Riverside County’s unemployment rate, provide opportunities for pregnant or parenting youth, improve outcomes for juvenile offenders and increase educational opportunities, among other things. As the youth program was looking for a way to connect with youth and build valuable experiences, we entered into a partnership with Monster Government Solutions and created a professional social networking site designed by youth, for youth called MyIEcareer.com. To help us achieve our goals this site is dedicated to providing Riverside County’s youth with increased access to career opportunities and resources.
"MyIEcareer.com is important because we're serving a tough to reach group of at-risk youth ranging from the ages of 16 to 21. For the most part, making sure they have an education and career focus has been a bit of a challenge,” says Tiki Copeland. “With this program we are helping to overcome that challenge by speaking to them the same way they speak amongst their peers—really meeting them where they are."
When teenagers need information, they start online. In fact, a 2014 presentation from PEW Research Center titled, 13 Things to Know About Teens and Technology, found that 95 percent of teens use the Internet, 78 percent have cell phones and 81 percent use social networking sites. Looking at data like this on an ongoing basis helps to inform our strategy of creating a site that speaks the language of our youth, and gives them a snapshot of life beyond high school. Copeland says, "[The site] makes it a lot easier to reach youth without them actually traveling. They are more apt to go online in regards to developing their skills or education, or even just to learn some minor tips and techniques for filling out a job application. Normally, we'd have to bring them in for a workshop at one of our Youth Opportunity Centers (YOCs) rather than them getting the information at their leisure."
To ensure that we were creating something that resonated with users, we hosted focus groups to obtain direct feedback from young residents who would be using MyIEcareer.com. From these focus groups we obtained valuable insight on the look and feel of the site and the content that the youth wanted and needed. Copeland says, "We held focus groups with young people to see what’s missing from the site and to make sure it was meeting their needs. Those focus groups continue twice a year in a safe environment to ensure folks can readily share what their needs and ideas are, and to improve the website."
In July 2011 MyIEcareer.com officially launched. After creating a profile, Riverside County youth started receiving automated alerts on relevant job announcements targeted to their age, experience and interests. Young residents immediately began using the site for critical education on potential occupations, interview tips, local career events and volunteer and internship opportunities.
Copeland says, "When these young residents register to be a part of one of our YOCs, they are given information about MyIECareer.com. What we have done to pique interest is to have contests at the YOCs that have to do with education or workplace skills. We'll have a resume writing contest, one to see who has the best elevator pitch or a competition to see who can provide a video explaining what to do in an interview and what not to do. It touches on all kinds of learning — visual, writing. They are learning to upload a video. It gets them on the site scanning job listings and getting relevant information. That was the initial push, and it took on a life of its own." With many diverse users, MyIEcareer.com is equipped with multitude of translation options to ensure that regardless of a student’s native language they can use the tool and gather the valuable information they need.
By December 2014 MyIEcareer.com had 1,300 members and was receiving approximately 25,000 page views per month. As with any technology, we knew that constantly changing and updating the site would be essential to maintaining engagement, so we decided to conduct a website refresh and launched an updated version of MyIEcareer.com the beginning of this year.
Aside from updating the overall look and feel, we empowered the platform with responsive design that was friendlier to consuming and sharing information on mobile phones and tablets, and also offered users access to downloadable apps on the iTunes and Android App stores.
A live video feed was also added to the site—something our ongoing search for youth feedback uncovered would be extremely useful. With the refreshed site, users and staff can now host meetings via live streaming, and the youth can obtain real-time advice. Another key component to our website refresh was a mobile friendly assessment tool to show the youth quick benefits of using MyIEcareer.com and to help them uncover career or educational paths that fit them based on their personality.
In addition to this, Copeland says the program has successfully engaged local employers in the Riverside County area. “We did this by explaining to employers what our website is about, who we are targeting, and the fact that we have an ample supply of candidates for them when they need to fill a position. It's important to let employers know our workers are entry-level and generally part-time, so they know to send information for those specific types of jobs. We also help pay placed workers’ wages for part of the time, so it's an incentive for employers."
We see this evolution and partnership as a work in progress. Our main goal is to continue to provide resources for our youth to ensure they become viable and contributing members of the community — MyIEcareer.com serves as an important tool in achieving that mission.