Yesterday, I complied with a summons from the Unemployment Division of the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development and attended a workshop at my local One-Stop Career Center. The stated purpose of this shindig was to “help get me back to work.”
Shortly after getting there, I became part of a group that was shuffled into a room filled with school desks, where we were asked to complete a number of forms. Our “invitation” had asked us to download and fill out the forms beforehand, so mine were done, but evidently, a number of my classmates (maybe fifteen or twenty in total) hadn’t. While I twiddled my thumbs and looked around the room, I noticed a few things—I was the only woman, none of us was dressed for a professional endeavor, and two or three of us were “of a seasoned age.” I was, by far, the fattest person there, and the only one who walked in with a cane. I may also have been the only one who finished high school, and certainly the only graduate of an Academy.
Oh, the pain of shaming Mt. St. Mary!
One of the forms we were asked to fill requested contact information for six prospective employers we’d contacted in the previous two weeks. Like an idiot, I had stressed over the fact that Monster/Career Builder/LinkedIn/Craigslist and the like do NOT give you detailed information. Consequently, I’d had to write things like “Monster” where it said “Name of Employer” and “Newark” where it asked for an address. I thought I’d be grilled, and accused of fraud. Nah. The instructor took my papers, glanced at them, and said, “this looks good.” I could have pulled names and addresses from the phone book; no one is going to check any further.
Once all the papers were finished and collected, the instructor explained that we had been chosen for this workshop because we were less likely than most people to find work before our benefits ran out. Some participants were unskilled laborers; others had been hurt and could not continue to practice their skills. It was implied that some people had been convicted of a felony or two, which might impede their job search. Two or three had very heavy accents, so language might keep them from finding a good job. Two had never used a computer… ever… still!
And then there was me. My issue wasn’t verbalized, but it was evident at a glance. I’m old, fat, and a bit wobbly on my feet.
We were given a nice long talk, which began with an admonition: do not fall out of the workforce. I wanted to say to the instructor that I didn’t fall out, I was pushed out, but I kept my mouth shut.
We were told to maximize our resources as we looked for work. It seems that networking is the best source of jobs (it’s who you know). We were strongly encouraged to sign up with agencies, since many companies are outsourcing their recruiting functions to outside parties. Having been a headhunter once, I wanted to ask whether employers still balked at paying a premium for sub-sterling prospects, but again… I kept quiet.
We were also advised to look for contract work as well as temporary employment… it seems that many companies want to live with you before they marry you (or offer you benefits). The one advantage of this trend is that contract employees can ask for—and get—significantly higher hourly rates, since they have to pay for their own benefits.
One little “company secret” was revealed. The only way to get an extension of benefits these days is to sign up for job training, so you learn a new skill. A gentleman with a very heavy accent asked whether the State could provide training in medicine, or driving eighteen wheelers. I had to say I was impressed by his willingness to explore divergent fields! Personally, I wondered if this meant it was time to learn to be a court reporter, or to learn how to twirl pizza dough, but decided to postpone my research into other occupations until I got home.
Finally, we were told not to rely too heavily on websites… and given a list of websites which we were asked to scour on a daily basis.
One of these websites is run by the government, and we were required to go into a computer room and register to use it. We were given temporary IDs and passwords, which we had to change in the presence of an instructor.
Remember what I said before? That two people in the room had never used a computer? You know what came next. “This is a mouse. Please pick up your mouse. Notice there’s a button you can click at the top left side of the mouse. No, the left side. Yes. That button.”
I remembered why I swore I would never be a trainer again.
Frankly, I’d like never to be a trainee again, either.
IDs and passwords changed, we were then asked to wait for our one-on-one counseling sessions. I met with a nice man named Luis, who proceeded to tell me that today’s jobs are nothing like the ones that existed in 1976, given a form with the title “Top 10 Ways to Overcome Age Discrimination,” and scheduled for a Job Club Workshop at the end of next month, since… you guessed it… I’m not expected to be working that soon.
And then I was sent home.
Trained. Motivated. Full of faith in myself and my prospects.
All right. Full of shit.
But the first call I took once I got to the house was from a headhunter, asking if I might be interested in a contract position. I answered yes, and asked for an hourly rate much higher than anything I’ve ever earned.
We’ll see if anything happens.