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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

notes.

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

through this.

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

for feedback."

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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