The Greater Raritan Workforce Development Board (GRWDB) has begun a Chromebook Loaner Program for some of the career-services customers it serves in Hunterdon and Somerset counties.
The program, begun in mid-April in collaboration with the Somerset County Library System of New Jersey, aims to assist residents who may have barriers to accessing virtual resources when they participate in some of the programs supported by the GRWDB.
“We know that the digital divide is real for some of our community members,” said Violet Kocsis, GRWDB Board Chair and Senior Vice President of Corporate Services, CHRO, Hunterdon Healthcare. “That is why the board decided to approve the creation of the loaner program, which is the first of its kind among New Jersey’s Workforce Boards. We hope that the Chromebooks will give our program participants more flexibility and the ability to achieve their career goals.”
The GRWDB oversees federally and state-funded career and employment services for businesses and residents in Hunterdon and Somerset counties. Among those are career resources and training programs for unemployed and underemployed adults, youth ages 16 to 24, and different special populations, including those receiving WorkFirst NJ-funded services.
The GRWDB’s Chromebook Loaner Program is open to eligible residents of Hunterdon and Somerset Counties participating in WorkFirst NJ programs: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF); General Assistance (GA) or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).Eligible participants in those programs can use the Chromebooks to assist with virtual workshops, e-learning classes, resume writing, job search, and career coaching.
The GRWDB purchased 20 Chromebooks, along with a mouse and carrying case for each. Five of the 20 can be borrowed with Wi-Fi enabled. Case managers working with clients in one of the WorkFirst NJ programs will determine an individual’s eligibility. Participants sign a loan agreement and pick up a Chromebook at a branch of the Somerset County Library System of New Jersey, which created a dashboard to manage the loan and track each piece of equipment and was instrumental in creating and launching the program.
Later this summer, the GRWDB will have a limited number of Chromebooks available at a Hunterdon County Library branch, so eligible Hunterdon customers can more easily access the Chromebooks.
Each Chromebook is available for a four-week loan period, which can be extended if the clients need additional time and there is not a waiting list for other users. Since the program began, three Chromebooks have been loaned and use is anticipated to increase as the numbers of those seeking career-assistance increases.
In anticipation of increased customer need, the GRWDB’s Executive Board recently approved the purchase of an additional 20 Chromebooks for Workfirst NJ program participants. The equipment will be available by late summer.
Fran Leddy, representing Hunterdon County Educational Services Commission (HCESC), the vendor which provides WorkFirst NJ services for the GRWDB, noted that, “In order to prepare individuals for successful employment in the current workforce, we need to consider digital literacy as an essential soft skill. The ability to practice these skills at their own pace and as often as needed is an advantage for all of the individuals we serve with the Chromebook lending project.”
The Chromebooks are just one example of how career services have been transformed because of the COVID pandemic. In recent months HCESC has:
- Created a new, interactive landing page on its website to link program participants with a variety of resources.
- Developed an online curriculum and program featuring live meetings, pre-recorded content and online assignments.
- Created a workshop booklet to provide equitable access for clients who don’t have access to technology.
- Added donated, refurbished laptops to its equipment inventory and made them available for customer use.
- Assisted customers with employment opportunities and paired them with available resources, including SkillUp Greater Raritan, an online learning portal.
“Many of the services we and our partners previously offered in person are, because of the COVID pandemic, being offered through different virtual platforms,” said Paul Grzella, GRWDB Director. “Even as in-person options return in future weeks and months, virtual platforms will continue to be part of our suite of services. The loaner program helps ensure that no one is left out of our career-services programs.”
For more information, and to see if you are eligible for participation in the Chromebook loaner program, call 908-526-8800 ext. 6747 (Somerset County), or 908-237-5000 (Hunterdon County) or visit bit.ly/3l261dK.