Help for white-collar blues Support group aids out-of-work professionals ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY BUSINESS

January 14, 1993|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff Writer

The white-collar professionals at the conference table were accustomed to being in charge. But now they were out of work, out of control, angry and frustrated.

And they were looking for emotional support from one another in a new group that meets Tuesdays at the state's Job Service and Unemployment Insurance office on Hudson Street in Annapolis.

"Your self-worth is tied up in what you do," explained Don Coslick, who once counseled hard-to-place job seekers -- ex-felons, displaced homemakers, the physically disabled -- for the Florida Department of Labor. "This is devastating to the old ego. People are really going through a lot of hurt about it."

Mr. Coslick lost his job as program coordinator at the U.S. Naval Academy's Family Services Center during budget cuts last November. He sent out resumes and followed leads. But they were all dead-ends. Then he formed a weekly support group, Unemployed White Collar Professionals, which has met three times, each time drawing a different group of five or six.

Like Mr. Coslick, the half dozen professionals at the meeting Tuesday found themselves out on the street, some for the first time in their lives, when the economy soured, government contracts dwindled and companies restructured.

Now, they trade leads and job-search ideas and commiserate about personnel officers' stonewalling.

"I'm at my wit's end," said an Annapolis woman in her 40s who was laid off 18 months ago after nearly two decades in the travel and tourism industry. She said she's used to taking charge, directing a staff and marketing plans. Now, former associates won't return her calls.

"There have been daily tears," she said. "I feel like I have no control."

A 56-year-old man said he started in sales in 1959, reaching senior management in a construction-related business by 1980. He was earning $90,000 when he lost his job in June. Since then, he has appealed to more than 1,200 companies in 49 states, with no luck.

"I'm perceived as one who is used to having big bucks," he said. "The pattern is quite clear. While I'm qualified to do a job that pays $35,000 or $40,000, they [employers] perceive it as a temporary job for me. Or they think that at 56, I don't have longevity."

The Annapolis woman in the travel industry had been earning about $45,000 a yea and traveling around the world when her association laid off all managers under senior vice president level. Armed with a marketing degree and managerial experience, she has been rejected time and again because all of that experience has been in travel and tourism, she said.

Wilson Arndt, 46, of Arnold, a former manager at a Virginia defense contractor, said it has been especially difficult re-entering a job market at a time when prospective employers ** place such emphasis on computer skills.

"I never had to use computers," he said. "The secretary did it."

Mr. Coslick, who got a Navy performance award one month and a pink slip the next, said, "This is a tough market. Whole divisions are being axed. Whatever people did before [to find jobs], they have to do a lot more of it now."

During his time out of work, the Millersville resident has found that standard rules no longer apply.

"If people won't return your phone calls, you happen to be in the area and you run into them as they're going out to lunch," he said.

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