Career counselor Nancy Cafferty sits at a small round table opposite two young ladies who have come for guidance in their search for fulfillment in the workforce.
Kafayat Onanuga, of Jamaica, is in her mid-20s and has been through the process before. Leandra Cedeno, who lives in Ridgewood and is also 20-something, has come for the first time.
They’re about to participate in an hour-long workshop, usually conducted one-on-one, on how to prepare for a job interview, one of hundreds of adult-oriented educational opportunities offered throughout the more than 60 branches of the Queens Library system.
The need for adult education courses is being met through the library’s Adult Learner Program, which encompasses a wide variety of services, resources and life-long learning opportunities.
“It is a highly impactful program because for adults who don’t have a diploma and are able to achieve that, it is a life-changer,” said Joanne King, the library’s communications director. “We’ve been growing out the adult education since the great recession. No one else offers these courses for free.”
Cafferty mentions to her “customers,” as participants in the various programs are called, that “much of the work for a good interview is done ahead of time, like getting ready for an exam.” That includes researching the company (“It shows you’re inquisitive, analytical.”); jotting down two or three good questions to ask the interviewer (she offers “What would be a typical day or week if I were offered the position?” as an example.); and practicing answers to anticipated questions (“Why should I hire you?” for instance.).
In meticulous detail, Cafferty explains the difference between the hard skills (education, work experience, knowledge of technology) and soft skills (ability to cooperate, to be a self-starter, to follow instructions, to get along with people) that a potential employer might be looking for.
She offers a reminder of the importance of sending out not only a resume, but a cover letter, “whether or not they ask.” Providing a sample letter, Cafferty points to the middle section, or what she terms the “why you should hire me paragraph.” In it, she points out, “you’re trying to tell them you have the qualifications.”
She tells the job seekers that “confidence in yourself is a key factor,” and reminds them on more than one occasion to “always tell the truth.”
As the session winds down, Onanuga admits that before attending her first workshop, “I didn’t have a clue on how to answer questions on an interview.” She has since been hired as a respiratory therapist and is optimistic that she will continue to make strides in her career.
Cedeno, who is pursuing a career in psychology, already has an associate degree in early childhood education. She has come to the workshop to learn how to overcome nervousness and a penchant for rambling while being interviewed.
Cafferty, a resident of Douglaston, has been guiding job hopefuls at the Central Library on Merrick Boulevard in Jamaica for two and a half years. She described patrons’ needs as “overwhelming,” saying, “I’ve had everyone from doctors to cleaning ladies. I’ve had people in their late 60s who still need to work.” The advice she offers them varies depending on the level of their education, socioeconomic situation and other factors.
A retired accountant, she works at the library a day and a half each week, and, she says, “I’m always booked solid.”
Seven Adult Learning Centers, located at the Central Library as well as branches in Elmhurst, Flushing, Long Island City, Rockaway Beach, Rochdale Village and Astoria, employ full-time professional staff and volunteers who tutor literacy groups and facilitate conversation groups in English for Speakers of Other Languages, or ESOL.
Also offered are basic adult education classes, video groups, writing groups, technology-assisted instruction and ongoing tutoring.
King said those taking advantage of the offerings have ranged from recent arrivals with Ph.D.s in their home countries who have to get licensed to practice here to “people who can’t even hold a pencil.”
In a borough where culture, language and economic levels cover such a wide range, “the variety of levels we have to educate at is very broad,” King said.
ESOL classes are offered in 12-week semesters in mornings, afternoons, evenings and on weekends. They cover beginner, intermediate and advanced levels, with instruction in speaking, understanding, reading and writing English, its use in real-life situations, and vocabulary and grammar enhancement.
Approximately 100 ESOL classes are offered each year at 28 different library locations across the borough.
Classes are also available for adults who already speak English and want to improve their reading or math skills in preparation for taking the high school equivalency exam. They cover improvement in reading, writing, math and critical thinking, exploration of literature, science and the social sciences, and study and test-taking skills.
The library’s Job Skills Training program, overseen by its Job and Business Academy, “is intended to help people take the next step in their careers or personal goals,” King said. “It may mean learning to use a computer, getting an advanced certificate in software or coding, or preparing for a civil service exam.”
The JBA at the Central Library alone employs four full-timers as well as up to a dozen part-timers, offering between 1,200 and 1,500 interactions — classes or one-on-one sessions — per month, according to its manager, Lauren Comito.
Comito said most of the individuals who come to the academy are “looking for work. We’ll help them with resumes, cover letters. We offer computer classes to help them brush up on their skills.”
All computer classes are held in the Cyber Center Training Room. Pre-registration is required for the courses, which include Treehouse, an online individualized service now offered to library card holders which guides users through building websites and apps; Job Map Orientation, an online self-evaluation used to gain skills in preparation for the next step in a career; and Code Camp, which teaches how to program a website for individuals and businesses.
At the Central Adult Learning Center, Library Literacy Assistant Manager Sharonda Amaye-Obu spoke of the Youth Literacy Program, geared to individuals from 16 to 24 years of age, many of whom have left school without the necessary writing and math skills for a pre-HSE class. Available all year round, the classes may have as few as five students each, with most students attending for three to 12 months, she said.
For more information on the Adult Learner Program, contact Dio Gica at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (718) 990-8661.
Visiting queenslibrary.org/learn provides an in-depth, day-by-day listing of the library’s education-related activities, which on one recent day included everything from driver safety, knitting and table tennis to Mandarin for beginners, a discussion on understanding health programs and Zumba.