WASHINGTON – Tens of thousands of jobless white-collar workers have tapped the resources of the Professional Outplacement Assistance Center since it began in 1992, but the program has been slow to catch on, supporters say.
Program director Steve Gallison said he feels that the center, geared specifically toward helping professionals find jobs in Maryland, is an “underutilized service” that many mistake for a regular unemployment office.
“It’s worked out very well for Maryland,” said Gallison. But while he has presented his professional outplacement center model at regional Department of Labor meetings, no other state, to his knowledge, has set up such a program.
Gallison first pitched the idea of a white-collar worker resource center in 1991, to the administration of then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer. Concerned that Maryland’s laid-off professionals would seek jobs outside the state, Gallison proposed a program that would help white-collar workers network and market their knowledge, to find work in Maryland.
Gallison recalls telling the administration that the state could not let the economic downturn of the early 1990s “drain all the brains out of Maryland.” He proposed an office equipped with computers, phones and fax machines so that unemployed professionals could get out of the house and make a job out of finding a job.
The Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation program, which began in 1992, has since grown to an office of three full-time job coaches and a part-time job counselor who help get white-collar workers back on the professional track, whether it is in their old job or striking out in a new field. The Columbia center also offers e-mail alerts with job leads, small career-specific groups and networking opportunities — as well as the phones and photocopying Gallison first proposed.
The three-day seminar is structured to drum up enthusiasm in weary job seekers, encourage people to network with everyone they can think of and teach professionals how to market themselves in resumes and interviews.
It attracts a wide range of ages, experience and goals. Most people who come to the program have been laid off. Some are just out of college, while others are just a few years from retirement. The seminar is popular among career Air Force personnel looking to make the transition into the civilian workforce after they retire from the military.
Peter Hyde, a principal systems engineer who was laid off in April 2002, said it was a great relief when he came to the seminar to hear that its trainers will continue to help attendees long after the seminar had ended. Hyde got three months of job placement help from a private company after he was laid off, then was left to fend for himself.
“I think it (the seminar) was a very worthwhile thing,” Hyde said. “Not only did they give us some very good material and very good help but they’re available and for as long as we need them.”
In a little over a decade, nearly 78,000 Marylanders have come through the center. With the unemployment rate in Maryland hovering around 4 percent, Gallison said he has had groups of 40 to 50 in the seminars in the past few years. In the first three days of this December, 47 people attended the seminar.
“I think our reputation has grown over time,” Gallison said.