A Layoff Sparks Dreams

by Michael Levy

American International Group, Inc., better known as AIG, recognizes itself as the world's leading international insurance and financial services organization, with operations in more than 130 countries. This publicly traded company established in 1919 has built a substantial business to the tune of $9.3 billion net income, $678 billion in assets and a 50+ million customer base, which continues to grow.

In my own local community of Tampa, Florida, AIG has branches managing various insurance and service enterprises. However, recent economic changes and company restructuring has caused the local organization to make painful layoff and downsizing decisions.

That's where our profession has made a difference for people. As a career transition coach, I have been on the scene to ease the transition for the laid-off insurance professionals by providing job search preparation and techniques. Over the course of three weeks, my firm provided two career transition and outplacement workshops, with seven female employees enrolled in each. This impacted a total of fourteen families who need to make major changes in their lives, some who have more than ten years with the company.

When I first met the participants, we were introduced to one another in a conference room where we met behind closed doors. At that point, it was hard to imagine who was more scared: the participants, because of the changes about to ensue; or me, an outsider closed in a room with a group of people recently notified that they were losing their jobs! No doubt they were scared, confused, worried and less than excited about having some guy hired by the company come in and tell them how to find a job.

As we started the process of analyzing opportunities and job search techniques, something amazing began to happen, transforming the experience for all of us. Our discussions about this less than welcome change began to shift in tone, and came to focus on new beginnings, dreams, and passions. Enthusiasm began to emerge; dreams were becoming speakable, and creative ideas started to surface.

One workshop participant started to talk about how she always loved to do training. Another realized and talked about the joy she gets when working with children. Yet another slid to the edge of her seat when she began to reminisce about how she has always had a passion for cosmetology. So, what initially was viewed by the participants as a negative experience, gave rise to the opening of windows of opportunity.

It was interesting to watch the group as they began to accept the new reality. Not too long before, the news of layoff had come as a shock; but now all participants came closer to acceptance. It was exciting to watch the group interact with one another as they shared ideas while each was learning the dreams and passion of the other. They brainstormed ideas and gave each other the inspiration needed to take action.

During one of our sessions we did skills analysis in a "round-robin" fashion. One of the most difficult things to do is identify one's own skills. Since the group members knew each other from years together on the job, they were able to share and name each others' skills and strengths, highlighting examples of contributions that each had made to the organization.

When our time together ended, the participants thanked me for the value they had received and the potential new opportunities that they now saw ahead. There will be a lot of work ahead for those that do decide to change careers, as well as for those who choose to remain in same career field. Motivation, dedication and commitment will be the key. But it felt good knowing that the workshop participants had recovered a positive mental attitude and a renewed sense of hope.

From time to time some of them will probably come across the emotional challenges of change and discover new hurdles to leap as they move towards their goals. But working with a career coach and other supportive people in their lives will help keep them on track.

Michael S. Levy is founder and executive director of Career Designers Services, LLC, a company offering services ranging from resumes and career coaching to corporate training. He has successfully assisted hundreds of clients through career development and transitioning. Michael's website can be found at: http://www.careerdesigners.com. Reach him at: careers@careerdesigners.com

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