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California's JobScout App Helps Bridge Digital Divide

A new digital literacy platform in California uses gaming elements to help job seekers master the skills needed for online job searches.

When the website Craigslist launched in 1995, with it came the disruption of newspaper classifieds. By not requiring listing fees in most job categories, Craigslist was offering the same product that newspapers had been selling for years.

Not only did this change the way employers sought new hires, but it also helped shift job searches into the virtual arena. For the technologically proficient, it is difficult to imagine not knowing how to search online for a restaurant review, pay e-bills or email a resume.

However, nearly 20 years after the launch of Internet classifieds, there are more than 60 million Americans who do not use the Internet, according to the Pew Research Center

“While our economy continues to struggle, many Californians are out of work and are unclear of what their next steps should be,” said San Francisco’s Chief Innovation Officer Jay Nath. “Providing educational tools to teach users essential digital literacy and job-hunting skills is imperative to stimulate and turn around the economy.”

U.S. Use of Mobile Technology

Since many Americans have access to mobile technology, an application that focuses on these critical Internet skills is imperative.

17% of cellphone owners do most of their online browsing on their phone, rather than a computer or other device. Most do so for convenience, but for some their phone is their only option for online access, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

As of December 2012: 

  • 87 percent of American adults have a cellphone.
  • 45 percent of American adults have a smartphone.
  • 31 percent of mobile Internet users "mostly" go online using their phones.
Of those ages 16 and under:

  • 13 percent have accessed library websites via mobile devices.
  • 77 percent say free access to computers and the Internet is a “very important” service of libraries.
As a part of a digital literacy effort called iCALIFORNIA, the California State Library funded an $800,000 project called JobScout. The Web and mobile learning platform, which uses gamification elements, teaches Californians basic skills to help find a job in a virtual world. Users play the role of a “scout” on a digital literacy “trail.”

“JobScout provides important foundational knowledge for users to begin assimilating themselves into the today’s fast-paced digital age,” Nath said. “Providing users with the proper skills and tools, the platform attempts to put all users on a level playing field so that no individual is technologically ‘left behind’ and is able to stay current with the evolving online marketplace.”

Through a partnership with the California State Library, the Link Americas Foundation and JobScout’s parent company, TRAIL, the platform was developed and released in late 2011.

The online learning tool was developed as a response to the number of library patrons utilizing free Internet access and requesting librarian assistance, which consumed librarian time and effort.

“Supply was quickly losing to demand,” Nath said. “With JobScout, librarians can take a few minutes to get started on the platform and then the user can navigate the platform from there.”

The platform offers nearly 40 lessons that include a variety of topics, such as what an Internet browser is, creating an email account, understanding Internet safety, creating social network accounts and using social media to network and find employment. JobScout also offers lessons on alternatives to traditional employment, such as using Elance, Etsy and TaskRabbit. Users can build a resume, search for jobs and apply for jobs from the mobile and Web applications.

According to the Links America Foundation website, “Learning digital literacy skills should be fun and engaging. The badges, points and other game elements to JobScout provide opportunities to new experiences and a sense of accomplishment for users in learning tasks, something that has worked well with offline training.”

The general use of JobScout is free to the end user. However, it also includes a tiered subscription structure that provides businesses with access to analytics and resources.

Future plans for JobScout include launching a Spanish language website and tapping into the Android market. Other organizations from around the world are researching how the JobScout model can be replicated for other countries.

“In three easy steps,” Nath said, “an account can be created and the user will be on their way to taking lessons, earning badges and finding work.”

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