Unemployment insurance recipients in Maryland must attend a workshop (put on by another branch of state government) regarding job seeking skills and coping with the stress of unemployment.
It used to be a two-day workshop but was halved as the numbers of unemployed grew, Maryland instituted a hiring free and then began furloughs of the remaining employees.
I hope the workshops aren’t phased out entirely. Call me a Baby Boomer but I love workshops. They appeal to me as a quick fix like magazine quizzes: What type of man wants the real you? Can you wear black? Are you a Paul girl or a John girl?
Set before our dozen seats were the ubiquitous folders and blank name badges. The first page in the folder was a scrambled set of encouraging aphorisms titled, “101 Stress Relievers.” The page was blanketed with these hundred sayings spewed about in dozens of fonts and sizes, some reading across and others up and down. The workshop leader had been told the inanity of the layout was stress producing.
“Talk to yourself,” extolled one piece of advice further suggesting two phrases, “I can do a great job.” and “I can stay calm under pressure.” Another prodded, “Write down your fears. Write down your dreams. Write your congressman.”
And that was that for the stress management portion of the day. It seemed sufficient. Short of passing out Valium, how much stress reduction is actually going to be accomplished in six hours minus one hour for lunch and two fifteen minute breaks?
The rest of the time was spent shaping us into attractive new hires. We needed different things. All we had in common was that we’d worked on-the-books (meaning we’d paid into our unemployment insurance funds) and had job histories. No small feat as it turns out.
Nine of us were young – I’m saying nobody closing in on 40 any time soon. Three of the young men – one black, two white – were laid off from the construction industry. Six more young people – two white women, two black men and one white man – came from the service sector from jobs in food service, educational services, retail and automobile repair. And three older workers (let’s say 45- to 60 years old) consisted of a white man out of work after two decades in menial non-union retail labor and two white women – one with top notch administrative and para-medic skills and me, refugee from a dinosaur industry.
The workshop leader was among us oldsters and was spot-on with her assessments of each of us. She rallied with the spirit of a wise if slightly tired scout mother. But it's got to be a tough job, trying to arm a disparate people with the tools to battle increasingly bad odds. There's the economy, of course. But that allows for everything else to escalate, she tells us. And she has touched at a piece of each of us by now, so we believe her. Discrimination is alive and well, prepare for it, she says. There are hundreds and in many cases thousands of applicants for a single job, be the best candidate and know someone on the inside. You will take an income cut, the older you are, the bigger the cut.
And that specific information that gets through, it is just damn terrifying, such as: Cut 25 years off your resume.
That's a quarter-century.
But she gave good workshop. Here's some of my specialized good news: Desktop Publishing is one of the projected “future careers.” Old white women are, as always, encouraged to return to school to update their skills or open a small business.
I think I see a future career in this interplay. All I need now is to get one of my daughters to pose for my honed, on-line resume photo.