More than 4 million Americans today make up the nation’s “long-term unemployed,” those who have been out of work for 27 weeks or more. That’s down from 5 million a year ago, but still an enormous number.
About the only good news for these people, often in their 50s or 60s, is that there are some innovative public/private collaborative programs successfully getting the long-term unemployed back to work.
If you’re 50+ and have been looking for a job for awhile or know someone like that, these programs are worth a look.
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Workforce agencies across the country are reaching out to help thousands of displaced boomers, according to Yvette Chocolaad, employment and training director for the National Association of State Workforce Agencies. Exacerbating the challenge is the increased complexity of job searches today. People looking for work now need social media marketing and personal branding skills as well as an ability to craft their resumés to include the right keywords and meet employers’ needs.
The Platform to Employment Program
One program with proven success is the Connecticut-based Platform to Employment, profiled by Next Avenue in January and featured on 60 Minutes. Platform to Employment gives jobless people five weeks of training and then places them as interns at local employers — where they generally wind up getting hired.
Lately, Platform to Employment has expanded across the country. This year, the concept has popped up in Dallas, Cincinnati, San Diego, Chicago, Minneapolis, Newark, N.J., and, most recently, Denver. Detroit and Orlando, Fla., are on tap for this winter and San Francisco is expected to follow early next year.
The LA Fellows Program
Chocolaad also gives high marks to the LA Fellows program. Here's how it works, along with advice for midlife job-seekers from two graduates, Nicholas Koutouras and Christine Stenberg.
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Launched in 2010, LA Fellows was created at Los Angeles Valley College, which saw an opportunity to address two pressing community problems: Thousands of highly skilled, middle manager-level men and women looking for work and 30 percent of local nonprofits were in danger of closing because of staffing cutbacks due to the economic climate.
The program was originally funded by Los Angeles’s Community Development Department and is now supported by local WorkSource Centers, plus a variety of government and private partners.
The LA Fellows are selected through an application and interview process just as rigorous as if the candidates were applying for jobs. Project director Allison Silver says she looks for proactive job seekers with a serious commitment and an eagerness to learn.
Once accepted, Fellows receive seven weeks of free training, including sessions on beefing up their computer and networking skills. Then they’re matched up with nearby nonprofits, where they volunteer their services for 100 hours. The projects range from updating websites to creating marketing plans to event planning to grant writing.
So far, 230 LA Fellows have graduated (each class is called a cohort) and the program has a nearly 70 percent job placement rate in Los Angeles, a city with one of the country's highest unemployment rates: 9.2 percent.
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Silver says employers now come to her, asking: "How can I get an LA Fellow to come and work for me?"
Koutouras' Success Story and Advice
Here’s how LA Fellows' graduates Nicholas Koutouras and Christine Stenberg parlayed their training into satisfying, well-paid jobs and the advice they offer to the unemployed:
Koutouras was in his late 40's when he lost his job as senior financial manager at a bank in May 2010. With a master's degree in accounting and information systems, he had built a successful career as a finance exec with large banks, insurers and accounting firms until a corporate merger eliminated his position.
Koutouras knew that hiring managers preferred to offer jobs to people who were currently working and that an LA Fellow volunteering assignment would fill that bill. After being accepted as a Fellow and going through the program's training, he was matched with the Los Angeles Ronald McDonald House to be a grantwriter there.
Just prior to starting that volunteer work, however, Koutouras landed a full-time job as a senior vice president at a major national bank. He took the position (and has since been promoted). But eager to honor his Fellows commitment, Koutouras also joined a finance development committee for the Ronald McDonald House's Board of Trustees.
These days, Koutouras continues volunteering in his community — he’s on the board of the Ronald McDonald House and another group — and is an LA Fellows mentor.
Koutouras’ tips for job hunters:
1. Go get your future. "Be proactive. Once you've decided the direction you wish to go, target a company or industry and focus on preparing for your next role there," he says.
2. Join a professional organization. "Don't tell yourself you can't afford the dues; many waive their fees or reduce them for people who are currently unemployed," says Koutouras. "I joined the Financial Professionals International Association and within months I was made vice president of programs. This allowed me to directly interface with more than 300 senior level executives and practice 'my unemployed story' in a safe environment."
3. Don't waste your time sending out blind resumés or scrolling through web job boards. "Tap the hidden job market revealed to you through your network connections," he says. "Through this effort, you will learn about expansion plans at your target companies, job openings due to promotions and turnover and the identities of influential decision makers. Be sure to follow up on any of their 'hidden' job tips."
Stenberg's Success Story and Advice
Christine Stenberg, then in her early 50s, endured a traumatic 30 days from mid-April to mid-May in 2010. Her relationship ended, two of her Labrador retrievers died and she was laid off from her IT management position due to a cutback.
Then, Stenberg was chosen for the first LA Fellows class and she has never looked back.
Her Fellows volunteer match was at a WorkSource career development center, where she trained and helped place unemployed individuals in bio-tech and pharmaceutical companies. After 43 hours of volunteering, WorkSource hired her full-time.
She then helped 60 clients find jobs before the poor economy forced the government to slash funding at the center. Sensing layoffs were coming, Stenberg drew on her newfound LA Fellows confidence and skills to land a business analyst job at the National Notary Association.
Stenberg, who has since been promoted to IT manager, shares her story with each new LA Fellows class. Her three tips for the unemployed:
1. Stay positive. "Over time, your situation will change," says Stenberg. "I could have been extremely down when I lost my job and dogs. Instead, the day I was laid off, I arrived home to find four offers on my home that I had put up for sale. As a result, I didn’t have to worry about my finances and could focus on my job search."
2. Research your options online. "See what a company you're interested in says about itself," she advises. "But even more importantly, find out what others are saying about that company. What's its culture? Would you feel comfortable working there? Are current employees happy or do you spot a lot of turnover? If you like what you learn, use your networks to find an employee at the company who’d be willing to give you an informational interview."
3. Don’t let fear hold you back. "On my first day at LA Fellows," Stenberg says, "I expressed my fear of public speaking, which is a skill that’s key to your success in the program. Throughout the training, I took advantage of every opportunity to speak publically and, as the program concluded, my colleagues selected me as one of our graduation speakers. Now that I’ve overcome this fear, I have spoken to the Los Angeles Mayor's committee and the Los Angeles Community College Board of Directors, among others, about the importance of the LA Fellows program and what it did for me."
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