Corrections or additions?
This article by Carolyn Foote Edelmann was prepared for the September 17, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Jobhunter’s Journal: Don’t Even Think `Unemployment’
The thrust behind my nature excursions is to discover
the unknown. However, this day I find myself on a trek I never meant
to take. I am in Trenton, at the New Jersey Department of Labor, not
far from the train station, embarking upon "Re-Employment Orientation."
My former employer in the U.S. 1 corridor recently "re-defined
core." Our division did not make the cut. Not only am I out on
the interview trail, so are all of my bosses — one having been
our CEO/President. Some had served 17 years, some as long as 23.
I have been dreading this encounter with what always used to be called
"unemployment." I find that word too passive for the 24/7
challenge that has been mine since our particular D-Day, the 6th of
June. I may be trying to remove myself from this setting by taking
Signs at entry read "One-Stop Career Center." I am actually
welcomed, and promptly, by a cheery information person. Everything
is simplicity itself — just take a seat and wait for Room B to
open. To my relief, it doesn’t feel like steerage. My disorientation
does not get worse by having to sit in a cavernous space with hundreds
of other displaced persons. Our somewhat apprehensive group is a pleasant
size — under 40, total. Lively, they seem interested — even
here outside Room B — in helping one another.
Behind us hums a generous bank of computers. About half the computers
are occupied by intent job-seekers busily checking out Monster.com,
etc. Signs read "Vocational Rehabilitation," "Service
Recruitment Today," and "Job Bank." My mood is such that
I read this last as the biblical Job, whom I have too much resembled
in recent weeks.
I am surprised that New Jersey’s Department of Labor posts a framed
Mission Statement: "We are committed to providing job seekers
and employers with a complete array of labor market and work preparation
services, universally accessible to all individual and employer customers."
They write of their "efficient, user-friendly, technology-based
environment." I’m shaking my head in disbelief, having expected
an atmosphere right up there with Motor Vehicles
They pledge to "support business growth by connecting employers
to a well prepared local labor force." They are determined to
"foster strong work preparation skills." They promise to "empower
job seekers with information and support to make informed decisions
leading to permanent, long-term work." The office praises its
"knowledgeable staff, the flexible and adaptable environment."
They affirm commitment to "customer-based continuous improvement."
I had wondered why my hostess kept referring to my day’s challenge
as "Re-Orientation." Maybe it wasn’t a slip of the tongue.
Perhaps this place is actually here to catalyze success, even lastingly
so. When I thank her for caring, she booms, "Of COURSE I care!"
Maybe they all do.
I note courtesy phones, signs in Spanish and English,
a Business Service Center, and a Migrant Hotline — 800-234-8848.
In one compact, briskly moving segment of this room, people take a
number, as in a deli. This allows them to receive answers to their
questions from a team of apparently crisp professionals. This area
is not overcrowded. The mood is upbeat. I continue to be amazed.
I observe one poster wryly. A man and a woman stand in a trout stream.
One is teaching the other how to cast. Water is clear, looks cold.
Rocks protect rather than loom. The tag line is "LIFE IS SHORT.
DO WHAT YOU WANT." This is not the sort of scene I’d expect to
encounter in Trenton. Now, do you think I could get a job teaching
people to hike, to bird? . . .
Two waiting women, somewhat bitter, seem convinced that they are "condemned"
to be here today because they "goofed" somehow in their application.
Our young Re-Orientation leader, Joshua Kocses, quickly disabuses
everyone of negative twinges.
A cheerleader type, — welcome, frankly — , Kocses tells us,
"We have a lot of stuff here for you to use for free, including
that bank of brand new Dell computers out there." I am surprised
to learn that New Jersey’s re-employment benefits are the highest
in the country, when all they took from our annual salary was $92:
"Your employer pays the rest."
Kocses alerts the group to free on-line services, into which we can
link wherever we find ourselves at a keyboard — here, any public
library, or a willing friend’s. He gives us generous but not overwhelming
printed matter, pointing out the 24-hour-a-day website: www.wnjpin.net.
There are Referral Request Forms to fill out, when one finds a job
that appeals on that website. "We will write referrals regarding
whatever job you qualify for," up to three referrals per day.
Another resource is www.mercercountycareercenter.com. We painstakingly
fill out basic resume-type questionnaires, to be transformed into
the One-Stop Career Center’s database for each of us. From this resource,
new career links will be forged.
I increasingly realize that this program is modeled after the high-powered
management consulting firm, Right Management, to which I’ve been given
access by my dear departed corporation. (They don’t call it "Outplacement"
any more, either!) My weeks of what I’ve termed "Disemployment"
have been filled with in-person, on-site, group and individual coaching
of high order. Prior to each seminar, I’ve worked intense computer
hours on Right Management’s on-line preliminary courses. New Jersey
has evidently set out to provide a similar set of services for any
state resident in our predicament.
The state goes the corporate group one better, offering Workforce
Development Programs (WDP) offering courses and tuition assistance
at a host of local colleges. We can sign up with the lively folks
at the information desk for an information session on education opportunities
at the WDP offices at 650 South Broad. Nine free credits are available
Kocses’s bounciness is well grounded, based on his tours in the military.
Otherwise I might find him too cheery. He offers other treasures:
"There’s a Learning Lab out there. It’s open from 8:30 to 4:30.
Come in here every day. Gets you used to structured time, bright lights,
the bustle of others as you work."
But there’s more, Kocses insists. "It goes beyond
your interaction with the screen. This is Networking Central. I see
it all the time. People exchange tiny bits of information. There’s
a relative, a neighbor, a spouse who . . . And the next thing you
know, you’re hired!" He quotes the surprising information I learned
at Right Management Consultants: 80 percent of successful new jobs
come through existing human connections, through networking. Ask everybody
— even your dentist, the mechanic, someone you worked with a decade
ago. Everyone is a link to new fulfillment.
At the Department of Labor, in quest of re-employment, copies are
free; faxing is free; telephones are free. "This is your office
right now." Kocses insists that everyone here is determined to
be "knowledgeable, caring, sensitive, committed to uncomplicating
any problems. Customers are to be assisted, empowered, regularly asked
Their job search workshops include resume writing/marketing; interviewing,
self-management skills; labor market information research and effective
job search. To sign up for these, the phone number is 609-292-0620.
Beyond that, Kocses describes the "Professional Services group."
A sort of a club for unemployed managers, professionals and technical
people, Kocses sees this arena as one of facilitation, not unlike
fraternities and sororities. A preliminary orientation and three seminars
confer membership. Volunteers assist vigorously. Again, we can sign
up for PSG, Professional Services Group, (held at 650 South Broad),
at the front desk as we leave, or by telephone later: 609-278-7168.
This one-stop career center, so near the Trenton train station, clearly
launches its clients with a multi-faceted approach. Across the street
is a Department of State Personnel, a Career Resource Lab. Just now,
there are beaucoup state vacancies throughout New Jersey, as
retirements click in.
Kocses proffers assistance with forming our business plan, objective
career counseling, tech assistance. He warns that family and close
friends are not ideal for these roles, being too caught up in our
pain. "You need an unbiased observer. They love ya too much! We’ll
actually walk you through interviews, offer tips, structure up-to-date
resumes. You have NO idea how the resume process has changed in recent
years, if not months. We’ll teach you all about key words, to hook
your resume into electronic scanners."
Kocses talks of the thrill of watching people come in, looking like
they have been hit by a train, then seeing the lights go on as program
after program clicks into gear.
Kocses informs us of the yellow information box at the front desk,
where we can insert written questions and comments. "Someone will
get in touch with you, today or tomorrow, we promise. Do NOT leave
here with an unresolved problem. There is no insoluble question or
problem. Come to us."
We have been here a little over an hour, and my head is swimming with
possibilities. My prime impressions are of the staff’s high energy,
optimism, and determination. There has been none of the bureaucratic
deadliness before which I long cringed within the French post office
system and in certain H.R. departments. Today’s Trenton supplicants
have been charged, like cell phones plugged in for the duration. Who
knows what connections lie ahead!
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