Laid off data processor helps himself, Baltimore County in volunteer program

April 18, 1992|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

Bea Newman wants to find a few more people like Andy Hughes to help Baltimore County fill the gaps created by the county government's hiring freeze.

Unemployed for five months after a 17-year career in data processing with Baltimore-based insurance giant USF&G, Mr. Hughes recently volunteered to work part time teaching county employees how to use personal computers.

For him, it's an opportunity to learn new skills, burnish old ones and, most important, "keep my sanity" while his search for a new job continues.

For Ms. Newman, coordinator of the county's Volunteer Action Center, Mr. Hughes represents a potential new source of skilled help the county needs to plug holes left by workers who have quit or retired without being replaced.

She said about 85 to 100 volunteers a year are placed with the county through her office, although thousands of people donate time to government -- mainly in neighborhood recreation programs and through the Department of Aging.

But most of those she places are college and high school students looking for work experience to offer future employers, Ms. Newman said.

Mr. Hughes, 43, a middle manager for USF&G in Mount Washington, said he was one of 52 people in his section who lost their jobs.

He is surviving on severance pay and unemployment, but each month brings increasing pressure to find something new.

A Towson native and 1974 graduate of Towson State University, Mr. Hughes said he spent about a week feeling frightened and emotionally isolated after he was laid off without any warning Nov. 15, 1991.

Then he volunteered to help the Maryland Food Bank distribute Thanksgiving meals, and "it made me feel really good."

Since then, the Rodgers Forge resident has been following a plan he designed to help him stay sane -- and find a new job.

While keeping up his regular exercise program, he took several college-level computer courses, began attending a weekly unemployment support group, called Baltimore County to volunteer and began teaching literacy in South Baltimore.

Unsuccessful so far in finding a job in his field in the Baltimore area, Mr. Hughes said he recently began searching in Washington, D.C., and Montgomery County, too, attending job fairs and sending out applications.

He said the tough part is that so many middle managers are out of work now that employers can demand -- and get -- applicants with exactly the skills they need. And "there aren't any management jobs out there, none at all," he said.

That's partly why he has found it so rewarding to be trained on smaller personal computers by the county and given the chance to teach other county workers.

"I was rusty on programming," he said, and the county has given him time and access to its computers to brush up his programming skills. "It's been a challenge," he said, noting that he has never taught before, either.

He teaches a two-day class about every three weeks, whenever enough employees sign up.

The hours are flexible so he can keep searching for a permanent new job.

His work has allowed Kathy Price, the person who trained him, to do other county work while he teaches.

"He's done a good job," said Timothy Krempa, his supervisor in the budget office. "We traditionally used somebody in-house, but we're so short-handed, we need more programmers."

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