Business

Job Cuts Hit Professionals in Mid-Career

Posted April 11, 2008 6:39 p.m. EDT
Updated April 11, 2008 11:43 p.m. EDT

— The rising rate of unemployment in the Triangle is striking a new type of victim: middle-aged professionals with decades of experience under their belts.

An increasing number of baby boomers are among the job seekers that have paid 66,000 visits to state Employment Security Commission (ESC) centers across Wake County in the past six months, officials said.

"We see a lot of professionals, a lot of IT people, admin folks," said Elaine Whitefield, a workplace development trainer with the ESC.

Those 45 years and older make up more than a third of the long-term unemployed, according the U.S. Department of Labor.

"There's nothing more depressing than being mid-career and realizing you don't know what you want to do with your life or where you're going," said Mary Specyal, who was recently laid off after 15 years as information-technology project manager.

The Avadon Group and Wake Technical Community College, though, have developed a program to give laid-off professionals a second chance at career innovation. The program is being offered through Cary's ESC center.

"It's just to spark that thinking: What else could I do? I've done this all my life; what else could I do?" Whitefield said.

Classes teach job seekers to assess and promote their strengths, find the right career, interview well and create resumes and portfolios that showcase their skills. Trainers also teach interpersonal and workplace communication skills.

Specyal said she learned to see her age and years in the work force as a valuable asset: experience.

"To realize who you are, where you're going, what you've achieved and what you can bring to the table is so liberating," Specyal said.

Companies have announced that they will or already have cut more than 1,100 jobs in the Raleigh-metro area and 400 in Durham since October. Regional unemployment rates have also gone up in the past year, according to U.S. Labor Department.

February unemployment was at 4.2 percent in the Raleigh-Cary metro area and 4.3 percent in metro Durham. That was up 0.5 percent in Raleigh-Cary and 0.4 percent in Durham from February 2007.

ESC officials say its program, though, can help workers buck those trends: 75 percent of participants get interviews within two weeks of taking classes, and the program has helped place nearly 1,600 people in new jobs.

Officials said those numbers might be even higher because some program participants do not notify the center when they get employment.

Specyal said taking the classes has helped her envision a new career in sales.

"I feel positive about the prospects because I think there is a real need for the expertise that individuals my age can bring to the table," she said.