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Workers look for fresh start after layoffs

Many who lose jobs must retrain for new careers

POSTED: January 5, 2009 5:00 a.m.
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Eric Peek, 46, Gainesville "I was a truck driver and I got laid off three weeks ago. I've been a truck driver for 18 years and I would like to stay in that field. If I had to take a pay cut, I would, but I hope it doesn't come to that."

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When you hear of the thousands of people who have been laid off their jobs during the economic recession, you may not stop to take in their individual stories.

Many of those who are being laid off aren’t just losing jobs; they are losing their careers.

"I’ve been seeing more older individuals coming in for help," said Kimberlee Wilson, who is the director of the Georgia Mountains Workforce Investment Area, which includes Hall County.

"These are people who have worked with a company for 15 or 20 years and they’ve earned rank within the company, and now they’re laid off. How do you replace that?" Wilson said. "We’re also seeing more people coming out of retirement out of necessity because they lost a lot of their savings when the stock market crashed."

Although Wilson’s department can’t replace the seniority a person has lost with a company after are laid off, her staff can assist individuals in going back to school to gain skills that would make them more attractive to prospective employers.

"We make the link between individuals and training, and over the past year or so, we’ve seen an increase in the number of people coming," Wilson said.

In addition, she has seen a lot of changes in the available job pool over the past year.

"Last year, there were a lot more accounting, clerical and retail positions available," she said. "The trucking industry continues to be a very popular field, but last year there were a lot more local jobs available that allowed drivers to be home every night.

"With a lot of local trucking companies going out of business, there is still a high demand for drivers, but they are looking primarily for over-the-road drivers, so drivers wouldn’t be able to be home as much."

According to Sam Hall, who is a spokesman with the Georgia Department of Labor, the number of people filing for unemployment benefits has increased over the past 12 months.

"Last year in September, 1,636 people applied for unemployment benefits. This year, in September, that number increased 244 percent to 3,998," Hall said. "The number of people who are using our Web site to get information about a job that has been listed with us has also increased from 9,808 Internet transactions in September 2007 to 18,055 in September of this year."

Georgia’s unemployment rate rose to 7.5 percent in November, the state’s the highest rate in more than 25 years and well above the national jobless rate of 6.7 percent. It has risen 3 percentage points 4.5 percent in one year.

The state Labor Department reported 365,244 Georgians looking for work in November.

Although there is no such thing as a recession-proof field, Wilson said that the medical industry continues to do well even in the current economic climate.

"A job in the medical industry is really one of the best ones available right now," she said. "It allows individuals to be home with their families, and most of the jobs offer benefits like insurance."

Although her department has some success with helping individuals find jobs, there are some instances where even their best efforts aren’t good enough.

"We’ve had individuals come in who are used to bringing home salaries in the high $50,000 to $80,000 range. And the jobs just aren’t out there that can allow them to bring in that kind of money. So even if they find something else, it means taking a pay cut. That’s tough, but we have to keep them focused on the bigger picture though," Wilson said.

"The market is so volatile right now and people have to keep in mind that they may not find their dream job, but something is better than nothing."



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