A decade ago, Utahns looking for work would file in to a Department of Workforce Services office and cluster around a cork board, scanning index cards advertising open positions.
Today, that would mean 510,000 people swarming those boards in April alone. But thanks to jobs.utah.gov, the state's online employment site, more people can view more job openings from anywhere and now they can do so more efficiently, as well.
Workforce Services has completed the first phase in a major overhaul of the jobs exchange, redesigning its website as part of a $4.6 million federal grant that will reshape state employment sites nationwide.
"It's our largest employment center by far. And I think the recognition that we were getting such traffic there was neglected, resource-wise, over the years in favor of the one-on-one interactions we have in our buildings across the state," said Joseph Demma, Workforce Services' director of communications. "We've moved into the next generation knowing that the Web is where we will interact with a large number of our customers."
Demma's team spent half a year sorting through Web analytics and talking with users before reworking the information-heavy site to "focus on what the customers are telling us they want by virtue of where they're going."
The answer: To find jobs.
"When we pulled the statistics on our website, it was just so apparent that they were going to three places, and they were going to one place in numbers of 10-to-1 on the other two."
There were 13.8 million job searches in 2012, while users filed 63,000 new unemployment claims online and 1.1 million weekly claims to continue assistance. Armed with those statistics, designers put the job search front and center on the recently launched home page.
But the site isn't used only by those seeking a job. It also is a place where employers come to post jobs, find labor market information or seek applicants in a state economy that is one of the healthiest in the country.
Tracy Taggart, a recruiter at J.C. Penney Shared Services Center in Salt Lake City, helped test the new site before it launched. He said the biggest change was the improved organization of the site's many features.
"They are broken down better now in that you have the employer site, and you can go to the employer site and find the information you need," he said. "And now I can go on and look for, if I was a job-seeker for example, I can now go search for a job on the main page instead of find the area to search for a job."
David Ostrom, Web manager for the Workforce Services department, said the previous site was information-heavy, but most people were coming to make transactions searching for work, seeking assistance or filing employer tax forms.
"We're no longer solely informational," he said. "We're more of a blend today, but predominantly transactional."
The new layout also adapts to the size of the screen on which it's being viewed, a nod to the growing number of people using mobile devices to search for work.
"In the last year, the beginning of 2012, we had 14 percent mobile visitors," Demma said, adding that by December it was 20 percent, then reached 30 percent in April. "It doesn't matter where you are economically, you're going mobile."
With job-seekers going social, the agency created 23 Twitter feeds to push out new jobs specific to each career type.
"Every few minutes along one of those 23 categories there's a job being posted," Demma said.
The next phase of the redesign will beef up the job-search functionality, adding a list of suggested jobs based on skills or other jobs viewed, Ostrom said. There also will be more social tools to allow users to send job postings to friends.
Utah and Montana are the two states whose efforts to re-imagine state jobs sites will ultimately be the template for the rest of the nation. Although other states will customize the look of their sites, Ostrom said the behind-the-scenes work being done now is what will provide the muscle behind those searches.
"At the end of the day, this agency is about helping people find employment and self-sustainability," Demma said. "We have a role to play to deliver temporary assistance to our customers, but the idea being that the quicker we can get them into a good-paying job, the quicker they're off public assistance, the better off everyone is overall."
At a glance
The new jobs.utah.gov uses adaptive design, which formats the website for the size of the screen on which it's viewed. That means the site works as well on a mobile phone or tablet as it does on a desktop. More features will be added, as the Department of Workforce Services continues to develop the site as part of a $4.6 million federal grant in effect through October 2016.