Howard Community College's Job Search Club helps unemployed return to work force

It also offers support group

March 17, 2011|By Joe Burris, The Baltimore Sun

Some people like Lori Hite of Ellicott City are still venturing back into the work force after being away for a decade, despite an economic tailspin that has vaulted the nation's unemployment rate to its current 9.5 percent.

Hite, a Howard Community College student, is aware that most professions are ever-changing in what they demand from workers and is concerned about where she fits among those who have been out looking for work almost as long as she's been away. So she turned to resources at her school to get back on track.

Hite joined the Job Search Club, an HCC program that for two years has shown unemployed students and area residents how to research employers and industries, network with employers and other job seekers, and write resumes and cover letters.

"Even more reason for me to sharpen up on my skills, I know the competition was a lot of highly skilled technical workers in the area," said Hite, 51, a former administrative assistant. "I felt like if I were to compete at all in the application process alone I would have to build up my resume, my networking skills and my interviewing skills in order to even go through the application."

The Job Search Club is led by HCC's career counselors and meets for eight sessions.

"Over the past two years we've had mostly older adults, maybe in their 30s and 40s," said Tonya Osmond, assistant director for HCC's Career and Employment Counseling. "Some of them may still be students.

"A lot of times they've been out of work and some of them are underemployed, so they have a job but it's not enough hours or not really representative of what their skill set would have them do," Osmond added. "They share with us that they are trying to improve their employment options."

A continuing education student at HCC, Hite had left a business administration job about 10 years ago to be a homemaker, but said that now her children are grown and she is going through a divorce.

"I need to get back to work and focus on my own career again," said Hite, who has been searching for a job since July. She added that the Job Search Club has helped build her self-esteem to help her hone her skills "to at least be noticed."

Joyce Prange of Columbia retired from her last job, as a nonprofit fundraiser, about four years ago to spend more time with her elderly mother. Her mother died in October, and Prange decided to return to work, at least part time.

"I knew I needed to update my resume and I also had been out of the whole networking arena for some time," said Prange, 65, who has taken classes at HCC.

She said that she isn't necessarily returning to her old career, but added that the challenges in returning to work include "assessing what I really want to do and being realistic about my skills. I have always used a computer, but when you don't use it particularly [for work] you tend to lose some of those skills. I have just signed up for another computer class to sharpen up my skills. There aren't many jobs you can do without some computer skills."

Osmond said that one of the challenges for Job Search Club counselors is helping those out of work restore their confidence, "especially if they're going on a year of unemployment."

She added that the program has a support group that allows its members to share their struggles with one another.

"To be able to talk to those other people and say, 'Hey, we're not alone, we can share resources' is one aspect," said Osmond. "And we the counselors try to help facilitate their emotions. They get frustrated, angry, depressed. We create a safe place where they can share some of that and process through and say, 'What can I do when I get back out there and keep my spirits up when discouragement is all around?' "

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