For the past several years, Devorah has spent her professional life giving workshops on Jewish meditation, practicing holistic healing and acting as a life coach, as well as singing in the tradition of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. She never thought much about seeking a stable career that would secure her future.
But, now in her late 40s and with the economy dipping, these days Devorah worries more about the practicalities of life, like a pension, retirement benefits and security, than she ever did in the past.
To that end Devorah, who did not want her last name used due to the private nature of her job hunt, has been taking computer courses at the JCC in Manhattan, retraining herself on a number of computer programs that she hopes will prepare her for a career in event planning or program directing for a Jewish organization.
“Computer skills are important on a resumé, and now I have them,” she says, explaining why learning things like Microsoft Excel, Microsoft PowerPoint, Access and other programs are boosting her job search along with her confidence. “I would ideally like a job that I’d like so much that I’d never have to retire.”
Devorah’s instructor, Muriel Mandell, herself a senior who oversees the computer program at the JCC and teaches a variety of classes, says she has seen a number of people in their 50s and 60s coming for class because they are looking for jobs in new fields yet lack the necessary computer skills.
“Many of them are coming from interesting professional careers who are now looking for secretarial work because that’s what’s available,” says Mandell. “So they’re trying to re-educate themselves to take on the jobs available. Some of them had secretaries who would do the work before; now they’ll be doing it [themselves].”
As opposed to some of the seniors who learn computers to keep up with their grandchildren, Mandell says her students who are seeking work tend to be younger, faster and extremely motivated to learn. They come from entrepreneurial jobs and, “now they’re downsizing to take on jobs that won’t pay as well, but they will be jobs,” says Mandell.
At the Eliezer Project, a nonprofit organization offering financial management and job placement services to residents of the Greater Five Towns area on Long Island, Ellen Aronovitz counsels clients who have newly lost their jobs on how to market themselves.
She helps them to write resumés and cover letters, to use online social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn and to figure out how to apply existing skills to new fields. She says learning computer programs like QuickBooks, an accounting software, can be a key for experienced workers to getting a job in today’s economy, and she often refers clients to places such as the Orthodox Union, which offers classes in QuickBooks along with Mac OS X Leopard, Adobe Photoshop, PowerPoint and Web development for little or no fee.
“A lot of people were in financial services where people were laid off, and they’re not hiring,” says Aronovitz, adding that she helps clients try to retool to transition to a related area. “Initially sometimes people say, ‘I don’t know what I want to do, there are no jobs in my area, I’m not saleable.’ I say, ‘Of course you are, let’s look at the skills you have like management, supervising, purchasing, bookkeeping,’ ” says Aronovitz, whose agency is funded by private donors in the area. “It’s a tough economy but people are getting jobs, our stress is on trying to update yourself.”
Another organization attending to the need for people in transition to retrain on computers is the Joan & Alan Bernikow JCC in Staten Island. The JCC is offering a workshop called “Looking to Get Back Into the Workplace?” which focuses on applying for jobs online, basic Internet searching and Microsoft Office skills, and which is funded through UJA-Federation of New York’s Connect to Care program.
Eliza Silver, who is administering the program at the JCC, says many of the people she sees in similar classes are finding themselves newly unemployed, often for the first time.
“Financially, people are having a hard time with their mortgage or their rent,” says Silver of the problems facing people who have been laid off or lost money in the stock market. “We’re really trying to address this whole new population of people who never needed help before, but now they need help.”
She hopes that her clients will pick up the computer skills they need to be able to climb out of debt and hopefully into new jobs.
“Every situation is unique,” she says, “but it is a global problem.