Monday, January 31, 2011

Signs of hope before the storm of the decade

Monday was an interesting day. It started with a call from Judy Burman, an adult program coordinator at Elgin Community College's Workforce Transitions Program. I had called her for assistance because, given the state of the newspaper industry, my prospects for re-employment there are not terribly encouraging, and I really want to explore all my options as I continue diligently searching for a new job. And when I initially left a message on her machine, I followed up by e-mailing her a copy of my resume.

At the same time, I'm continuing to work part-time as a digital journalist, and of course the story of the day in the Midwest is one of impending doom: A monster storm system is bearing down from the southwest, expected to hit northern Illinois about mid-afternoon Tuesday with gusty winds and snowfall rates at its peak of 2 to 3 inches an hour. From thence it is expected to blanket the northeastern states.


Of course one of the advantages of having been laid off is I no longer have to worry about the hour-long or longer drive to Aurora. I can stay home and maintain my own driveway and walks, ducking inside from time to time to call city services to gather new information for the story I will be writing for Elgin's hyperlocal website, BocaJump.com.

But even while I was gathering information on Monday for my storm preview story (see it here), my mind was primarily on that morning phone call.

Judy offered some suggestions about changing my resume, and I've started to do that, although I will be seeking more guidance from her on doing that when we meet face to face on Tuesday morning. Also as we talked, she pointed out weaknesses in my resume that could be overcome simply with the proper training -- for example, I have some skills in a variety of Adobe programs like Dreamweaver, Acrobat Pro and Photoshop, but they are largely self-taught and therefore not "certified."

And there are other skills in which I am weak. A lot of communications employers, for example, want employees who are proficient in Microsoft Office Suite, which includes programs such as Word, Excel and the like, but with with I have had very limited exposure.

And so she urged me to head down to the local unemployment office -- in Illinois, it is the Department of Employment Services -- to participate in an orientation program offered by the Kane County Department of Employment and Education. As we talked Monday morning, she pointed out that one of the two weekly orientation sessions was that very afternoon.

The purpose of the session was to learn more about and get an application to participate in the Workforce Investment Act program, which allows folks like myself to train and receive certification for work skills that will better enable me to find a new full-time job, preferably for the same level of pay I was making before I was laid off Dec. 2.

So I headed to the local IDES office, arriving a half-hour ahead of time because I anticipated standing in line for most of that.

The meeting was led by a man named Rod who walked us through the program. Afterward, he said the five of us in Monday's orientation session were rather fortunate -- the agency's funding for non-county workers had run out a couple of months ago. Before that happened, he said, the number of people sitting in on the sessions had been more like 50 or so.

After the session, Rod took a few moments to talk -- I stayed behind because I was curious about a lot of things.

What struck me is that Rod has been involved with this agency for some time, and I guess a part of me expected a government service provider who was overworked, particularly in this economy with the number of layoffs that have occurred, and likely worn out by the sheer number of folks like me, shaken by a job loss.

And yet here was Rod, sitting with me, asking me about my career, asking me how I've been dealing with the loss, what I've been doing to find new work and what kinds of training I was considering via this program.

Aside from being personable, he was showing genuine interest in me as a person, and I had not expected that. It was a very pleasant surprise.

Further, just as Judy had done earlier in the day, Rod listened to me outline what I had been doing -- sending out resumes to companies both within journalism and in related fields, updating frequently, adding to my resume papers hot links to my Web profiles, to this blog and to online stories I have written -- and he was very encouraging about my efforts.

I do not know, as I attempt to move into this program, whether Rod will be assigned to me as a case manager. But if nothing else, the day's journey had become one of encouragement. And if Rod's not the one who becomes my case manager, I do hope that whoever is will be at least as equally engaging and will see me as a person of value, just as he and Judy had.