February 05, 2007

SIUC team helps run new Web site 'Illinois workNet' aids job-seekers, businesses

by Tom Woolf

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Those without jobs and those who hope to fill some can get high-tech help from Illinois workNetä, a new Web site now up and running in the Carbondale area at http://www.illinoisworknet.com. Administrators say users statewide will be able to log on later this year.

"If you're planning a job search, learning about careers, wanting to improve your education or looking for work support services, Illinois workNet can point you in the right direction," said John S. Washburn, a workforce education professor from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Washburn heads an SIUC team that works with the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to fine-tune and run the site.

"If you're from a business, Illinois workNet can guide you to recruitment sources, provide training, find information on business growth and management, and connect you to business services teams," Washburn said.

Businesses and individuals have been getting this type of assistance at the state's "one-stop" centers, so named because they offer services from a number of state agencies at one location. Created by the federal Workforce Investment Act of 1998, these centers are located in workforce investment areas consisting of several counties, though Chicago is an investment area all on its own. Illinois has 26 such areas, each offering training and services tailored to local needs.

Illinois workNet improves on one-stop service by bringing virtual centers to users through computers at home, in the office and at libraries, faith-based organizations and other community locations with Internet access.

From July 2005 through last June, SIUC's Illinois workNet team concentrated on getting the site up, running and working well in Franklin, Jackson, Jefferson, Marshall, Peoria, Perry, Stark, Williamson and Woodford counties and in Chicago.

In August, the team added Bond, Carroll, Cass, Christian, Clark, Clay, Clinton, Coles, Crawford, Cumberland, DeWitt, Douglas, Du Page, Edgar, Effingham, Fayette, Fulton, Jasper, Jefferson, Jo Daviess, Lake, Lawrence, Logan, Macon, Madison, Marion, Mason, McLean, Menard, Monroe, Moultrie, Ogle, Randolph, Richland, Sangamon, St. Clair, Stephenson, Tazewell, Washington, Whiteside and Will counties.

The site meets the Illinois standard for disability access.

"That may not sound like that big a deal, but it's not easy to do," Washburn said.

"For example, the colors have to work for people with colorblindness. JAWS software, teamed with a speech synthesizer, enables the computer to 'talk' to users with sight problems."

In addition to the disability component, workNet offers other unique features. Like the one-stop centers, Illinois workNet provides information to businesses and individuals in local areas. But the Web site never closes. Visitors can use the site for free; registering, which doesn't cost anything, sets up a personal "account," allowing users to store information that they can retrieve whenever they visit.

Along with the Web site, the SIUC team is also developing an online course to train one-stop center staff and those at other public and private work-support organizations. Trainees enrolled in the Certified Illinois workNet Adviser course will learn how technology in general and workNet in particular can connect customers to career transition assistance, education and training opportunities, and work support services. Washburn and his team began testing the course this month. He expects to have it ready to go in late spring or early summer.