Job Talk: Program offers white-collar unemployed support and community
The conference center at St. Patrick Center was nearly filled with unemployed business professionals in suits and ties and "casual Friday" attire, listening to Kenneth Harrington of Washington University discuss the ups and downs of being your own boss.
The subject was entrepreneurship, and they took notes in binders -- some imprinted with their old company logos. In a way, it all seemed comfortably similar to any other business seminar held on a Tuesday morning, down to the ubiquitous PowerPoint presentation and the aroma of coffee drifting in from the continental breakfast available in the adjoining room.
There was even some corporate humor:
"What do you do to deal with uncertainty in the corporate world?" asked Harrington.
"Have meetings,'' replied a participant, bringing chuckles all around.
What: A support and educational program for unemployed business professionals
When: Every Tuesday morning. Continental breakfast and networking at 8 a.m. Speaker at 9 a.m., followed by break-out sessions. The speaker for the Feb. 2 session is Lethia Owens who will discuss the power of personal accountability in staying on track during a job search.
Where: St. Patrick Center, 800 North Tucker Blvd., St. Louis 63101
Info: For more info or to register to attend, visit the GO! Network's website.
Every Tuesday morning, the St. Patrick Center, which is known for serving the city's homeless, opens its doors to a demographic that is new to economic turmoil: white collar workers -- most in their 40s and 50s -- who were cast off from the region's corporations during the recession's job shedding.
The program is called the GO! Network, and it offers professional networking and speakers, workshops, job fairs and resources to help members with resumes and job applications in the plugged-in world.
"It has become a community of people who are going through a common struggle,'' said Chuck Aranda, program director. "It's a place for support but also for really practical skills. The world of the internet and social media didn't exist years ago when these people were looking for jobs.''
Keeping People in the Game
"GO!" stands for growth and opportunities -- and it's all about keeping the unemployed in the game, said Aranda.
Organizers had expected the program to run for three or four months. Instead, it is marking its first anniversary,
In the coming weeks, the Beacon will talk to St. Louisans with interesting perspectives on unemployment and underemployment. If you have a story to share, please email email@example.com.
"We had no idea what was transpiring in the world and certainly in our country," he said.
Nearly 200 people attended the first session on Feb. 3, 2009. Since then, more than 2,000 people have joined the network and nearly 25 percent of them have found full-time employment, Aranda said. Success stories are shared on the GO! Network website.
The program continues to evolve to meet the needs of members who have been out of work for extended periods, he said. There are sessions on stress management, for example. And members in financial crisis are connected with existing social agencies.
"It is the hard reality," Aranda said. "As time goes on and your severance runs out, your insurance runs out, it's putting strain on other parts of your life. And then you listen to the news; this isn't going to change overnight."
The GO! Network takes a holistic approach, he said.
"We're looking at all the issues that one faces going through transition,'' he said. "Yes, it's personal development. It's professional development. There's also an emotional and physical aspect to it. We're all going through this journey. Here is what everybody is facing."
A peer-driven organization
From the outset, the GO! Network has had corporate support. Sponsoring partners include Anheuser-Busch, World Wide Technology, Right Management and Paramount Planning. The program is also supported by the United Way.
The GO! Network is peer-driven, tapping into the experience of the professionals who join it, said Pam Presgrave of Celtic Creative, an in-house agency of the St. Patrick Center.
Members plan the weekly programs, she said. Others work on the website and in marketing and communications. About 46 percent of the members are women. Members have backgrounds in a variety of fields, including sales, marketing, management and informational technology.
"One of the real values of this organization is dealing with, for the most part, a certain age group -- certain experiences that most of us share," said Jim Bularzik, 57, who joined about seven months ago and is now director of the program committee. "There is a lot of support that we get from one another and that support also turns into some very positive energy."
Bularzik, who retired from the St. Louis airport authority with a pension, said he is sensitive to the fact that members may be dealing with financial worries.
"I consider myself extremely fortunate," he said. "That said, someone with my drive and interest never really considered that their career and working would be over at age 57."
Bularzik said a strength of the program is that the unemployed are planning and running the programs.
"The 8 a.m. start gets the members up and out early to be dressed appropriately and professionally," he said. "You feel like this is a professional job search.
"In the networking or conversation, nobody ever talks about sports or some side topic. People know why they're coming here, and we emphasize that. It's the reason you got up early and the reason you go downtown. People sense the professionalism, the friendly but serious attitude that everybody has, and it's contagious."
Pat Eby, 61, who has been self-employed for more than 30 years, joined the network about five months ago for help in her job search, prompted by the recession and rising health-care costs.
"The value of a network like this is discovery of your strengths and your personal brand," Eby said. "Every person has the skills and abilities that we take for granted and we don't mine those skills and abilities for what makes us a valuable employee. If there is anything good that can be said about not making enough money, it spurs you to think of new things to assess and to evaluate."
Eby appreciates the group's focus on transition and professionalism.
"I can ride out this economic crisis," she said. "I can rebuild and change if I need to. That aspect of Go! Network is very empowering -- that you can go forward."
Keep moving forward
The economy will eventually turn around, but the world has changed for many out-of-work professionals, Aranda said.
"You're not going to transition into jobs that don't exist anymore," he said. So, he added, the question becomes, how do find or create something new.
For some, the answer might be entrepreneurism. For others, self-employment is simply not an option, Aranda said. A goal of the GO! Network's programs is to help members determine what's right for them.
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"The number of professionals displaced by the recession is unprecedented," Aranda said. "We're trying to look at whatever it takes to help this community not only survive but thrive and to go into new innovative areas that didn't exist before this crisis hit our country."
People tend to identify themselves with their jobs and to think of their companies as a community, but for the nation's 17 million unemployed, those relationships have been severed. That point really hit home in December when a member remarked that the holiday gathering would serve as "our company Christmas party," Aranda said.
"This is their community. They feel a part of it. They know they are supported -- that we're challenging them and providing valuable services to help them stay in the game," he said. "We hear that feedback all of the time: 'Thank you for providing this service. It's helping me to get out and stay connected and not just sit at the computer and search the Web.' "
Contact Beacon staff writer Mary Delach Leonard.