When Zish Margulies moved to New York in 2001, starting a career in the financial services industry didn’t seem like a risky proposition.
“The boom was just taking off,” says Margulies, a native of South Bend, Ind.
He soon became a successful real estate analyst, and was well on his way up the career ladder when the market collapsed.
“At first I tried to hang on,” he says. “I believed the self-proclaimed experts who said the industry had already gone through the worst.”
But last winter, when he got laid off, he lost faith.
“I have a wife and a 3-year-old to support,” he explains, “and I didn’t see things improving fast enough or staying stable enough for me to stay in the industry.”
So after some careful self-reflection and a conversation with his wife, he applied to nursing school at Touro College. While calling it quits on a six-figure profession and starting over is humbling, says Margulies — who notes that some of his classmates are barely out of high school — he likens the move to jumping off a sinking ship and onto a life raft.
“The health-care field seems full of opportunity,” he says.
There was another factor — New York State’s 599 unemployment training program, which allows certain dislocated workers to continue collecting unemployment benefits while they go back to school to pursue the credentials they need to transition to a high-growth industry.
Though not all displaced workers in the city are making choices as extreme as Margulies’, a good many are pursuing alternate career paths, from returning to school to changing industries
And like Margulies, some are finding that the recession’s dark cloud has a silver lining — a host of new government-funded training and education programs designed to help the downsized get back on a career track.
Among them are National Emergency Grants, which provide training funds to a select group of workers laid off from financial services jobs; Individual Training Grants, for displaced workers who can establish that specific training would improve their chances of being hired; and educational PELL grants, which provide tuition funding.
“There’s more money available now for worker retraining and education than there’s ever been before,” says Michelle Duffy, spokeswoman for the state Department of Labor.
There’s a good reason for all the retraining money, says Henry Silverman, manager of the Brooklyn branch of the state-run One-Stop Career Centers.
“For every seven people looking for work, only two job matches are available,” he says. “Five won’t be able to be rematched.”
In other words, with industries in flux and the economic ground shifting, more than 70 percent of downsized workers won’t be able to get jobs that look like the ones they lost.
from crisis, opportunity
As a laid-off construction loan processor, Abigail Smith has learned this lesson firsthand. The rapid decline of construction in the city led to a long spell of unemployment for the Brooklyn resident. But it also motivated her to pursue what she really wanted to be doing.
“I’ve always known I wasn’t going to spend my entire life processing loans,” says Smith. “I’m a creative type. Getting paid to do creative work has always been my long-term goal.”
When she learned about the 599 program at the Brooklyn branch of the New York State One-Stop Career Center, where she went for unemployment counseling, she saw her opportunity to shift gears and pursue a career in interior design.
“Instead of looking for jobs that simply don’t seem to be there, I’m going to go back to school full-time this fall,” she says. “When I graduate I’ll be able to get a job designing and decorating commercial spaces like restaurants, nightclubs and hotels.”
Until then, Smith will be living on a shoestring. Extras like dinners at nice restaurants, fancy vacations and trips to the beauty salon will be limited.
“It’s going to be tight, I know that.” But, she says, “This is the time. There’s no better moment to go after my dream.”
Marcia Gaines-Whitfield is another Brooklynite who doesn’t need to be told that the same skill set that allowed her to thrive at her job yesterday won’t win her a new one today. She’s been living the story since she lost her job as associate director of graphic arts at UBS Investments in June of 2008. Since then, she’s sent out hundreds of resumes, networked through 15 years’ worth of professional acquaintances and followed every bit of sensible job-search advice she has received.
Still, she hasn’t been able to find a job in the finance industry, which has shed thousands of jobs. And if forecasts are right, a good number of them won’t be back, at least not in the same form.
“From a historical perspective, the number of jobs in a sector never comes back to pre-recession highs,” says Doug Reamer, bureau chief of employment and workforce solutions for New York State.
That’s the reason for the National Emergency Grants (NEG), training funds that are being made available to workers laid off from financial giants like UBS, Barclays, Morgan Stanley and more than two dozen other firms. The program offers eligible workers up to $12,500 to be used toward the training and education they need to compete in the workplace.
Gaines-Whitfield was one of the area’s earliest recipients of the grant money, having learned about it through a mailing.
“I went online and filled out the form right away,” she says. She then researched which courses she might take that would make her a more attractive job candidate. Thus far she’s taken classes in digital publishing and graphics arts, and plans to take more advanced versions later this year.
“It’s a real luxury for me,” she says. While it’s too soon to know if her new skill set will be the ticket to her next job, it certainly won’t hurt her any.
“Managers won’t have to worry about their training budgets if the hire me,” she says. “I come trained in the latest technology.”
While NEG funds are available only to a select group, other grants are being made available to the jobless. Scott Carson of Noble Desktop in SoHo, where Gaines-Whitfield has taken classes, says a rising number of their students are using grant money, including Individual Training Grants from the city’s Department of Small Business Services
It’s a worthwhile investment for those looking to get a leg up on the job search, he says.
“Those who have the skills to design Web sites, for example, have a huge edge over the competition, because every business is more dependent on its Web site for sales, advertising and customer service,” he says.
When one sector falters, another grows. That’s the idea behind JumpStartNYC, an initiative by the city’s Economic Development Corp. (EDC) that puts displaced financial and media sector workers through a weeklong “think like an entrepreneur” boot camp, then pairs them with a small or venture-backed company where they spend 10 weeks working without pay. Each boot-camp grad is charged with a mission — help make the company you’re working at blossom.
The concept is “retrain the best displaced workers to move into the entrepreneurial sector,” says EDC spokesman David Lombino. “New York City wants to retain its talent.”
When the program is over, some of these workers land jobs, some become inspired to start their own businesses. Everyone leaves with new experience, a few lines to add to their resumes, an expanded network and new ideas about how they can make an impact.
“In a big company, if you accomplish something big, not too many people take notice,” says Sandeep Bedi, who participated in JumpStartNYC’s pilot program. “In a small company, you stand out. Everyone knows who you are.”
A project manager with an MBA who was laid off by Natixis Bank 14 months ago, Bedi applied for the program after hearing about it from a friend.
“I’m confident in my abilities,” he says, “I’ve always received good reviews, but with this economy I haven’t even been able to obtain any face-to-face interviews.”
JumpStartNYC offered Bedi an opportunity to strut his stuff in front of a prospective employer, and to use his project management experience in a new context. Assigned to ClusterSeven, an operational risk and software development company in Lower Manhattan, Bedi ended his term having accomplished two things. First, he completed a benchmarking report that the firm’s execs are now sharing with customers. Second, he landed a consulting gig with the firm.
The JumpStartNYC pilot was so successful that the EDC will be sponsoring several more, says Lombino; the next starts in November.
Ralph Baxter, CEO of ClusterSeven, which hosted another participant along with Bedi, called the program an “amazing” experience. And he noted that in addition to offering a feel for the talent the city’s workforce has to offer, it offered another lesson as well, in its efforts to bring the entrepreneurial community together to assist people in a tight spot.
“Even in the depths of misery, the heart of New York comes out,” he says.
Where to find it
OK, so there’s a record amount of money available for worker education and retraining. How exactly does a downsized worker get his or her hands on it?
The best resources for learning about what’s available are the US Department of Labor’s One-Stop Career Centers, which include branches in each borough as well as in all 50 states, and the city’s seven Workforce 1 career centers, run by the Department of Small Business Services. For the former, see CareerOneStop.org for info and locations; for the latter, see nyc.gov/html/sbs/wf1 or dial 311 and ask for Workforce1.
For additional info about training and educational opportunities for the jobless, visit opportunity.gov; also the NY State Department of Labor Web site at labor.state.ny.us. To get information on federal programs by phone, call 877 US2-JOBS.
To learn about JumpStartNYC, see nycedc.com/FSinitiatives. The next program is slated for November; more info will be up on the site beginning next month.