Re-training for Re-Employment
By Lydia Glider-Shelley / November, December, 2011

Robert Shelley, 52, of Hollywood never had any education beyond high school. He worked as a printer at the same place for 33 years, until August 6 of this year when the plant was shut down.

For a man who had faithfully showed up to perform his duties, and who had only called in sick three times in as many decades, the prospect of finding work in a shaky economy was daunting. He had always thought that, if he kept his nose to the grindstone, one day he would be able to retire and enjoy his life.

After trying unsuccessfully to find work in printing, or even a manual labor job, Shelley decided it was time to re-train. He enrolled in a heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) course at a local college. He chose it because nearly everyone has air conditioning in South Florida. His other choices -- swimming pool maintenance, auto repair and lawn service -- offered a more limited field of potential clients.

Shelley has not received any unemployment benefits, although he qualifies. He has taken his 401K and rolled it over into an IRA, withdrawing a portion to live on until he finishes school and is able to work as an air conditioning installation and repair technician.

Marsha Lampert, 47, of Boynton Beach, has been unemployed since July 3 of 2010. She says she has tried to learn new skills, such as sales or telemarketing. Now she is looking into attending law school, or re-training for a career in medical coding/billing or bookkeeping. Marsha is running out of time, as she is now on tier 2 extended/emergency federal benefits.

Although she can teach private music lessons, she would lose the benefits she is receiving if she did so. Also, she could not easily build up to having enough students while collecting benefits.

Lampert possesses a MENSA-level I.Q. of 143, her education is superb, and her grades were stellar. She obtained (with distinction) two master's degrees -- an M.S in energy management, and an M.B.A. in finance. She also holds two bachelor's degrees in music and Spanish, plus several certificates.

These two cases serve to illustrate the fact that, whether you are simply a high school graduate or someone who has had many years of expensive higher education, the job market is currently tight and unforgiving. Shelley's many years of employment with a single employer and Lampert's wealth of knowledge and experience have not yielded them the results they expected in life. They are both cautiously hopeful, yet quite uncertain with regard to their immediate or distant future.

Re-training, and incurring further debt in doing so, is a risky venture. However, more and more people are choosing to do so, because the work they have previously done has been out-sourced to other countries or rendered obsolete altogether. The workforce is in transition, and, as a result, it is fluctuating to a degree that pinpointing trends is ever more difficult.

For those who still have jobs, it may appear that all is well and there is much ado about nothing. It can be difficult for them to sympathize and easy for them to tell others less fortunate to just go get a job.

But it is not so simple any more. The good news is that this sort of paradigm shift has occurred before. Those who have the gumption to tough it out always manage to come through on the other side of it with new skills and confidence in areas they may not have even considered, if they had not been forced to.

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