Another Career, Not by Choice

By Mary Probst

As an employment specialist serving families in need during a time of a deep economic recession, I have seen an influx of individuals who have lost their jobs due to nothing other than the struggling economy.  Individuals who have always relied on their motivation and abilities are now forced to seek government assistance in order to maintain their lifestyle, care for their families and prevent themselves from entering a world of scarcity, debt and unhappiness.  Unemployment has rapidly increased over the last two years and many states have had their unemployment rates surge past 10 %.  Jobs in manufacturing, construction, professional and business services have all suffered enormous losses and their recovery is estimated to be slow at best.  This means those who once had security in their chosen professions must look elsewhere for employment, develop new skills, attend new training and learn to market themselves to different industries.  This means that they must, often very reluctantly, train for another career.

One Client's Journey

I recently met with a man who, for the last nine years, has worked as a journeyman carpenter for a local union.  After working over five years at wages just above $20 an hour, his hours began to dissipate due to a lack of contracts for his services.  Eventually, he was only working three days a week, then two and then finally none at all.  As he recalled his last days on the job, he remembered feeling extremely emotional with an overwhelming sense of "now what" as he cleaned up the work site, loaded his truck and drove away. 

From there he entered the world of unemployment as so many Americans have done in the recent calamitous economic environment.  Surviving on unemployment was not desirable for a person who had always worked.  This was not just about money, but about self-confidence, identity and a sense of belonging in a world that attributes status with employment.  It is at this time when an unemployed individual is forced to look deep within to find the courage to make a change, take a chance and seek new opportunities.

After some soul searching, this individual entered our program, a nonprofit funded by government grants. The goal of our program is to financially assist unemployed persons in order to provide training to be marketable in a job market of many seekers and few job openings.  Our goal is to put job seekers through trainings that fit their interests, fall in line with growing or stable industries and provide a wage appropriate with the person's skill level, education and experience.  As an employment specialist, I sit with job seekers, and through a series of questions, assist these individuals with identifying personal strengths and transferable skills that they can bring to a new job.

Making the Connection 

Identifying transferable skills is truly a critical thinking activity and an essential tool when assisting experienced job seekers.  Those who have worked in one industry their entire working lives are likely to believe their career is the only career they can do, and they assume that they do not possess enough skills required for a new job or a new career.  The journeyman carpenter was convinced he lacked most skills required for any other industry, not related to construction.  This is merely because he never challenged his way of thinking, that is, thinking more critically about all the skills he utilized and acquired while working in construction and how these skills matched almost any required skills in other industries.

For instance, as a journeyman carpenter for over 9 years he developed supervisory skills and spent time training new employees.  I asked the journeyman carpenter if he thought the skills of supervising and training carpenters related to the supervision and training of a retail worker.  The journeyman carpenter laughed at this approach, but as we started to critically think about the skills needed for retail job duties he discovered that many of those retail skills were congruent with those in the construction field.  For instance, as a supervisor he had to mentor, display effective leadership, have patience and understanding and provide feedback and constructive criticism.  Additionally, as a supervisor he had excellent communication and problem solving skills.  Furthermore, as a journeyman carpenter he maintained autonomy on the job and had the ability to effectively work without direction or supervision.  All of these skills are transferable to the retail, nursing, construction, and business industries.   By the end of our conversation, he had identified over thirty transferable skills!  He left feeling liberated, empowered and motivated.


A follow-up meeting with his training specialist led the journeyman carpenter to register for classes at a commercial driver's license (CDL) college.  Upon his completion of the program, he sat with me again and we developed a spectacular resume which clearly elucidated all the transferable skills he now knew he had all along.  At this moment, the journeyman carpenter, newly trained as a CDL driver, left our meeting feeling empowered and excited about the skill list he could proudly lay out for prospective employers.

As an employment development specialist, I find it crucial to identifying empowering traits of each and every person who talks with me about employment.  As the traits of those unemployed in America continue to evolve, Career Development Facilitators, counselors, case managers and educators need to empower those participants we work with by identifying transferable skills in order to develop a plan towards a new career.

Mary Probst Mary Probst is an employment development specialist with nonprofit, Goodwill Industries of Denver.  Mary graduated from Colorado State University with a Bachelor's of Science degree in Human Development and Family Studies.  Mary is currently pursuing her Master's degree at the University Of Colorado- School Of Public AffairsMary.probst@dss.co.adams.co.us ; goodwilldenver.org

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