The numbers are shocking: The official U.S. unemployment rate shot up to 8.1% in February, the highest since 1983. The losses were "large and widespread across nearly all major industry sectors," according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm). In response to these unhappy statistics, Tutor.com (www.tutor.com), the web's leading online tutoring site, has announced that it will launch a new product this summer. Called the Adult Learning Center, it will be aimed at helping job seekers to write effective resumes and cover letters to help the nation get back to work. It will also mentor adults who need help to pass the GED or college classes while training for a new career.
This is welcome news because, as any public librarian knows, library use has spiked in the last year, due in large part to the numbers of out-of-work patrons flocking in to use public internet access terminals to search and apply for jobs. In North Carolina, for example, Pam Jaskot, consultant at the state library said recently, "Some counties report as much as a 45% increase in computer use since the holidays compared to last year."
Most employers require job seekers to apply over the web by filling out online forms and posting resumes in text or PDF. Yet many of the newly unemployed have no idea how to do that. These adults are leaving jobs that did not require computer proficiency. They missed the web revolution. Now, when faced with the requirement to apply online, many are utterly flummoxed.
Reference librarians increasingly find themselves in the uncomfortable position of being asked by patrons to edit resumes and cover letters. The Adult Learning Center at Tutor.com hopes to fill this need by offering real-time proofreading services in an application called ProofPoint. Users will be able to paste their resumes, cover letters, or even business proposals into a whiteboardlike area in the online application. Tutor.com staff can suggest improvements immediately in that shared space.
Microsoft Silverlight, a free, media-streaming plug-in (www.microsoft.com/silverlight), is the key to the smooth graphical interactivity of the site. NBC used Silverlight to broadcast clips from the Beijing Olympics over the web. Silverlight is designed to be platform independent; it comes in Mac and PC versions. Soon, it will be available for use on mobile phones.
The look and feel of the new Adult Learning Center will resemble the current Tutor.com interface, which is designed for elementary and high school students. In the student version, users are directed to "Get a Tutor." From there, they can choose from among four major subject areas: Math, Science, Social Science, and English. After that, students select their grade range and the general subject of their question: essay writing, biology, calculus, etc. An additional screen further triages the query by establishing how much help students feel they need. Are they unsure of their first steps? Or do they just need an independent eye to proof their work?
Users are charged for every minute they actively engage a tutor. Prices for individual subscribers run slightly more than a dollar for every 2 minutes. If, as a note on the site suggests, an average physics question takes 29 minutes to answer, this would mean that individual users may pay about $15 per query. In this payment model, tutors are available around the clock every day of the week.
Libraries and other institutions arrange custom plans with hours limited to suit their budgets. Many libraries offer access to Tutor.com from Sunday through Thursday in the afternoons only, when students are most likely to have need of the service. Some institutions also subscribe to the Spanish-language version of the tutoring service.
Indeed, perhaps the best use of the Tutor.com services may be to give personalized proofreading help to those with limited English skills who struggle to write papers for school or to craft cover letters when applying for work.
Another major component of the Adult Learning Center will be the SkillsCenter Resource Library, a searchable library of authoritative articles offering resume writing advice, GED preparation materials, and practice citizenship tests.
For almost 10 years, Tutor.com has connected students to certified tutors over the web. Almost 2,000 libraries-and four entire states-offer Tutor.com services to their constituents. All of the Tutor.com staff has been tested, trained, and has undergone background checks. It is wonderful that Tutor.com is helping the economy by reaching out to help the unemployed with its Adult Learning Center.
Perhaps there's even greater news for the knowledge worker community. Tutor.com is one of the few employers that is hiring. Do you know any out-of-work librarians, writers, or teachers, especially those with math or science backgrounds? Can they commit up to 5 hours per week between Sunday and Thursday from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. during the academic year? Are they bilingual in Spanish or Vietnamese? They can get back to work through Tutor.com!