The wild and bumpy ride of the American economy in the last four years is only just beginning to show signs of improving, and it may take many more years before there is a full recovery.
That means thousands of people in Connecticut will continue to face unemployment or under-employment for a while longer.
Robert Zisek, of Redding, and Shirley Furniss, of Fairfield, are all too familiar with the need for career transition. Zisek was laid off from his job in information technology in the pharmaceutical field after 26 years.
"I was one of the casualties of restructuring," Zisek said at a recent adult career transition session at Norwalk Community College, where two NCC representatives talked about existing courses and programs in development -- biological science, environmental science, medical office management, medical science, and veterinary assistant -- that can help open employment doors in a short period of time.
NCC's Adult Learning and Career Transition initiative targets military veterans, people over 50, displaced workers and others eager to re-tool.
Furniss said the company where she has worked for 30 years in the procurement field is about to close its doors for good. She has interviewed for other companies without success.
"At our age, it's very degrading to think that we've proven ourselves and it's not because of our work ethic that we're losing our jobs," Furniss said. "It's because of the economy. They'd rather hire somebody who's out of college who will (work for less).
"You're at that stage in life where you feel you're not needed anymore, (but) I'm willing to work and I have the energy to work."
Not one to be easily discouraged, Furniss decided to explore other career opportunities at the NCC informational session.
Erik Rambusch, director of recruitment for the Health & Life Sciences Career Initiative, and Gail Howard, director of school and community partnerships, provided details about available options at NCC that can train people and get them back in the workforce quickly. Existing health care and science programs include three educational options that students can consider: certificate programs that bear no credit, for-credit certificate programs, and programs that will result in an associate's degree.
NCC has received funding from the U.S. Department of Labor, the American Association of Community Colleges, the Connecticut State College and University System and other sources to launch innovative workforce programs for adults in transition. Partners in the effort include the YWCA of Norwalk and Darien and the Connecticut Women's Education and Legal Fund.
Students can complete the soon-to-be launched programs within one-month to two years, which will get them back in the workforce. The programs feature adult-friendly scheduling; credit for work-based learning, in which their years of experience on the job will be taken into account; individual assistance with choosing a program and applying for financial aid; and getting the necessary training for high-demand and emerging fields.
"There really is, to a certain degree, a prejudice against people who are not 35 when you are out there in this super-competitive, horrible-economy, job-search world," said Kate Foster, a job search support coordinator for the Darien/Norwalk YWCA, which helps job-seekers with coaching and resume-writing. "The fact that somebody recognized that we needed to do this, I'm hoping it's pivotal in opening the door for (recognition of) the value to older workers."
Howard said the program at NCC and elsewhere throughout the country hopes "to build on people's strengths, giving them up-to-date skills and then get employers to get on board."
Many of the opportunities are in the fields of health, life science, human services, and education, particularly early education. The government's "Occupational Outlook Handbook" projects that 30 percent of all new jobs will come from health care, social services, or education. Medical careers are expected to grow by more than 25 percent and add more than four million jobs to the economy.
Rambusch told Zisek that the college will offer a Healthcare Information Management Program, which involves creating the hardware and software for electronic medical records that the government is mandating. Rambusch said the infrastructure hasn't been created yet so those going into that field would be on the cutting edge and at a considerable advantage.
Howard said another strong career option is Therapeutic Recreation because of the aging population and the need for people in that age group to have mentally and physically stimulating activities. NCC offers a Recreation & Leisure Studies for-credit certificate program, she said.
A new partnership with NCC and the Southwestern Connecticut Health CareerRx Academy offers free tuition and books, and other amenities to low-income people and the long-term unemployed. The program will guide people through certificate and associate's degree programs in the medical field.
For people with children there is a special office to help them balance work, family and school, Howard said.
Howard said the college will hold skill building courses over the summer to help people brush up before they get back into the classroom. Courses include Math Refresher, Intro to Word and Career Planning after 50.
Howard said some adults are reluctant to consider going back to school, worried that they won't measure up to younger students but, she said, adult students bring to the classroom the richness of life experience and the responsibility to meet deadlines that will help them succeed and will also serve as inspiration for traditional-aged students.
Zisek said adult learners who are returning to the classroom after years or decades have to re-learn study habits, but Howard said there are advantages that adult learners have over traditional students.
Rambusch said adult learners often have wisdom and work and life experiences that add a richness to the classroom.
"And you have insights about things that young people just haven't had a chance to acquire," Howard said.
The adult students interested in NCC's Adult Learning and Career Transition programs are eager and seasoned workers, "both men and women, looking for a new career pathway," Howard said. "We are already talking to employers who want to hire them."
Part of Norwalk Community College's mission is to strengthen the workforce. The school works with local employers to see what skills are needed, which will help the school develop its courses and course descriptions.
For information on adult transition programs at NCC, call 203-857-7080 or visit www.ncc.commnet.edu and click on Extended Studies.