Monday, July 12, 2010

Laid-off workers pick up hot skills

When Jeremy Holley lost his second factory job because of layoffs last year, he decided he'd had enough of the boom-and-bust volatility of the automotive industry and that a career change was in order.
The 33-year-old enrolled in a government-subsidized retraining program, and in December completed a three-month emergency medical technician program.

"I was surprised I got a job so quickly," said Holley, who landed as a deputy director of emergency management in Giles County, in part, because of his experience working as a volunteer firefighter.

Thanks to federal stimulus funds, enrollment in government retraining programs has surged as laid-off workers in shrinking industries shift to careers in hot, emerging fields, such as health care, computer technology, transportation and, to a lesser degree, renewable energy.

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This year, the state will spend nearly $64 million on such training, although it remains difficult to accurately assess how effective the programs will be in the long run.

Many trainees, such as Holley, ended up with jobs after going through a program — and Tennessee ranked in the top five states nationally for the number who found work after retraining in 2008, according to the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

For some Tennesseans coping with recent double-digit unemployment rates, training has not been a silver bullet to bring success. In an era of stiffer competition for jobs, many choosy employers are demanding that applicants have on-the-job experience in that specific industry, and many career changers don't have that.

Retrained workers say they're often stymied because they don't have the kind of experience that new employers want to see, and some older workers say companies show a preference for younger recruits.

Michael McLendon, 43, of Antioch, has been out of work as a certified public accountant for a year and a half and hoped that training in information technology would make him more marketable.

But he has been passed over in favor of younger job candidates, he said, and other employers don't seem to give him much credit for recent contract work. They'd rather see a resume filled with steady employment, he said.

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