The novel coronavirus pandemic left many across the state of Rhode Island unemployed and seeking work in 2020, so a unique solution was born: a partnership that would modernize and simplify the search for a job.
Rhode Island, like many other states, is seeing record-high unemployment rates in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. In July 2020, former Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo announced an initiative called Back to Work RI in response to the pandemic and in hopes of strengthening the economy.
Back to Work RI is a public-private partnership designed to support Rhode Islanders who are seeking a job. The state-led initiative works with employers throughout the state to upskill and employ job seekers.
This mission led to the creation of the Virtual Career Center (VCC), developed through a partnership with Google Cloud and the nonprofit Research Improving People’s Lives (RIPL). The VCC platform, built by Maven Wave, uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to help form connections between job seekers and employment opportunities. The platform was planned, designed and implemented with a focus on usability through a team from Google’s professional services organization, with customer engineers working closely with the state's Department of Labor and Training (DLT) and RIPL.
Perhaps what makes the virtual platform distinctive is the creative approach that the partners took in envisioning its design.
As described by Sarah Blusiewicz, assistant director of Workforce Development for DLT, the team had to determine what exactly this business would look like in a virtual setting. Prior to 2020, business was conducted completely in person in an office setting, as Rhode Island had several physical career centers across the state with career coaches and specialists.
To adapt this process to the new platform, DLT’s team and Google had to take on a new perspective to determine what the front desk of a VCC might look like, how to design the website so that it would be intuitive and whether the terms they were using were jargon or user-friendly.
“It was really just taking yourself out of your physical office space and trying to figure out how to adopt a technology-driven approach to this work,” explained Blusiewicz.
According to Todd Schroeder, director of public-sector digital strategy with Google Cloud, it was very much a paradigm shift to envision this process in a different way. The collaborative effort considered all stakeholders, including ideas from the top, but also from the staff familiar with the processes.
“That ultimately designed a better end result for the job seekers and the employers,” said Schroeder.
The urgency that the pandemic created required the DLT team to not only think about things from a different angle but also to do so on an extremely tight timeline. While many projects of this size and complexity can take more than a year, the VCC was created in weeks. The partners worked quickly to achieve continuous release through a series of sprints, allowing for improvements based on priority, Schroeder described.
Google Cloud’s involvement opens the door for a wide range of capabilities with tools such as BigQuery, Cloud SQL, Cloud Storage and Cloud Talent Solution API powering VCC. The platform is also compatible with applications like Google Calendar and Google Meet, simplifying the process for scheduling and conducting interviews. It incorporates tools like Google Docs and Gmail that many users are already familiar with.
“What Google brought to the table that I think made it a unique project … was all of the G Suite technology,” described Blusiewicz. “We really wanted it to be an easy transition where it was a technology that felt like you had been using it for years when really, in fact, it was a brand-new thing.”
While some aspects of the program are brand new, the data is not stored on a separate system from the regular UI data. Rhode Island has data storing procedures and protocols in place, and Google adds its own layers of security measures through the Workspace and Google Cloud platform, including meeting a host of certifications like FedRAMP.
“The career center platform runs on Cloud itself, a technology platform that’s conceived, designed and built securely from the ground up,” explained Schroeder.
Perhaps the most impressive feature of the VCC is the use of machine learning technology and artificial intelligence, which vastly increase the potential of creating strong matches between job seekers and employers.
Because the VCC embeds the AI machine learning algorithm, the platform gets “smarter” as more people use it. The algorithm will continuously gain accuracy and create more suitable pairings. Users can be paired with jobs that similarly situated people have had success with, or they can be paired based on matching skill sets from the user’s resume.
Though born out of necessity during the pandemic, the VCC will continue to connect Rhode Islanders to work with a modern and intuitive system. As Blusiewicz described, they were able to turn a tragic moment into a transformative moment in how the government delivers customer service.
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