After 18 months of development, an Internet portal developed by the Information Systems Division of California's Employment Development Department (EDD) debuted in July. It contains more than 4,200 links to help connect job seekers to job information and related services offered at the federal, state and local levels -- including information about local public-transit systems and daycare.

The portal is a pilot project developed under the auspices of California's Electronic One-Stop Task Force. The task force, comprised of 22 state agencies and private-sector members, has been guiding the work of the state's Electronic One-Stop (EOS) Project. The EOS project is a part of the state's answer to federal mandates contained in the Workforce Investment Act stipulating that all states create one-stop delivery systems for employment information.

The primary goal of the EOS project is to provide employment services electronically to clients, who can access the portal through computers at existing California One-Stop Career Centers or libraries, for example.

"The vision for this portal is that it is a focal point, a single jumping-off point, for information for California employers and job- and employment-training seekers to come to for realtime, accurate information on a national, state and local level for activities related to workforce development in the state," said Vince O'Hara of Talk Technology-TSP, a private-sector member of the One-Stop Task Force.

Those who use the portal instead of preparing and mailing paper copies of their resumes can simply access statewide job listings and post their electronic resumes on the portal for employers to look over.

"We don't see WorkNet replacing anything," said John Logan, EDD's Workforce Development Branch Automation manager. "WorkNet is an enhancement of existing information-delivery systems. If you can provide self-help functions so clients can get their own information without having to have referrals, then that frees staff up to provide more intensive services, more specific core services, so that your staff in the field offices are more effective in getting their job done with the people that need the help the most."

Nuts and Bolts

Portal users simply click on the state map to bring up menus listing county names and select a name to bring up a map of the county with the locations of the local career centers. Clicking on any career center brings up its address.

"We have so many partners out there that if somebody wanted to find information in their local area, they'd have to be extremely lucky to find all of the partners in their local area through a Web search," said Logan. "What WorkNet will do is channel inquiries into the right sources of information and try to eliminate some of the confusion in terms of where to get certain information."

EDD's development team designed the portal to serve as a host for county agencies wishing to construct Web sites but lacking the technological wherewithal to do so.

"In the future," said Terry Bennett, Web developer for California WorkNet, "clients that don't currently have Web pages will be able to download the WorkNet module onto their machine and make changes to it or customize it with their logos and it would represent them on the Web."

Any of California's 215 county career centers could then post information about job fairs, events and training classes online so users can access information without taking a trip to the career center.

"We are creating a resource here that can be used in a number of different ways," said Richard Newbold of the California WorkNet development team. "This could be more than just that interface that you see; it can be a way for our partners to access information that they can use on their own branded Web sites for local one-stops."

The portal offers different interfaces to its users, meaning that employers utilizing the portal see an interface completely different from what a job-seeker sees, or what a staff member uses.

Staff members, for example, get new information or functionalities "pushed" to their PCs from EDD's server, while constituents or other users can "pull" new information or settings for the portal from EDD's server, depending on what information they chose to provide when they registered. A cookie remembers their information for later visits.

Incremental Steps

The development team has been beefing up the speed of loading the maps and adding help functions to aid users. Other plans include adding text-to-speech and text-to-language capabilities. The text-to-speech functionality will translate the portal's content to speech. For the text-to-language functionality, EDD's development team envisions that users will be able to select their native language and the contents of the Web site will be translated accordingly.

EDD's development team also wants to add search-bots, software programs that search for information over the Web, to the portal so users can search classified ads from regional newspapers when looking for employment.

But while the portal offers promise, it must wind its way through the approval process before getting full funding for permanent life on the Web. User input and evaluations from staff statewide, in the form of surveys sent to one-stop centers, will be reported to the task force in January. "The report will give us an indication on the future of the site," said Deborah Ray-Sims, of the WorkNet development team. "The pilot is the proof of concept. We have to prove that it's something the centers want and will use."

Assuming the portal becomes permanent, several key issues, including the content, will still need to be addressed. Once populated with content, information-sharing policies will need to be established to govern which information one-stop centers may share regarding their clients with outside partners. Another concern will be staffing issues.

"We're breaking new ground in bringing in all these other partners to the portal," said Newbold. "There will be interesting issues and some policy issues that will surface. When you start to talk about interactivity or dynamic type of Web content, then it starts to become very untraditional. This is where there will be a need for a lot of education as we try to increase the level of services."

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Additional information is available by contacting Deborah Ray-Sims of the Employment Development Department at 916/653-3256.