Earlier this year, I wrote about the innovative work of community-based job clubs across the country that work specifically with mid- to senior-level baby boomer professionals who have been unemployed for six months, a year − sometimes even longer. These support groups provide networking opportunities, job search tips and fellowship to individuals, most of whom have never before been out of work for an extended period of time.
To better understand and address the needs of these job seekers, Eric Seleznow, the new acting assistant secretary of labor for employment and training, myself and other leaders from across the Labor Department recently sat down with about 20 long-term unemployed professionals who attend similar job clubs in the Washington metro area. Our aim was to learn more about their experiences, including how they meet their financial obligations, how their job searches progress and how they upgrade their skills. We also wanted their insights into what types of services and supports would help them the most in returning to work.
The stories were both heartbreaking and hopeful. Some of the workers said they are struggling to support adult children and aging parents. Others who have been out of work for more than two years said they are dipping into their children’s college funds and 401k savings plans to make ends meet, as their Unemployment Insurance benefits expired long ago.
Many of the workers are still adapting to a new era of hiring dominated by the Internet, applicant tracking software and social networking sites. Some expressed hesitation at taking jobs with pay cuts of as much as 50 to 75 percent, for fear of never regaining their past earnings. They are anxious about – but open to – relocating or switching careers entirely.
At the same time, it was clear that these workers are finding ways to reinvent themselves professionally. One of them recently started a catering business. Another has collected several new certifications in her field. And most of them remained optimistic about a brighter future.
Our primary takeaway was that these workers generally are looking for three things. First, they want opportunities to meet face-to-face with executives and other decision-makers at companies in order to state their cases for the value they would bring to that employer. Second, they want better data on the job openings they are applying for as well as an accurate indication and timeline of employers’ plans to hire. Finally, they want to make sure if they pursue a new certification that it will result in a job offer.
The workers also shared fresh ideas for increasing awareness of the tools available through the Labor Department’s CareerOneStop employment portal, and for re-engaging workers whose Unemployment Insurance benefits have expired. In the coming months, we plan to incorporate their insights − along with other emerging research about out-of-work baby boomers − into our existing policies and programs for the long-term unemployed.
Ben Seigel is an adviser in the Labor Department’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Policy and the deputy director of the department’s Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.