Retrained but still looking for work

Tom Koller’s taken some big steps the past few months to remake himself for the next economy. But it seems he’s retooling faster than the industry he hopes will hire him.

Laid off as a machinist in 2008, Koller entered the state’s Dislocated Worker Program to retrain for a future as a computer network administrator. A source in MPR’s Public Insight Network from Eden Prairie, he’s letting us follow him in his quest.

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He hit a milestone recently, earning his first Sun Microsystems certification. The problem? It’s not clear the credential will deliver a job.

The market, he says, is looking worse than when he began training last year. He says he initially saw about 12 to 14 postings a week for computer system administrators.

“All wanted experienced people. With that many, you would expect some to also take on entry level people. Now I see maybe three a week. As for help desk staff, the number of openings seems stable, but the wage is dropping.”

Koller, 50, is one of the tens of thousands of Minnesotans thrown out of work in this recession and among an unknown number retraining for a new industry because their old jobs will not be coming back.

The newest state jobless data, released today, showed December unemployment stable at 7.4 percent. Still, the state lost jobs in December and officials are are struggling to find different ways to say the same thing — Minnesota’s job growth will be spotty in 2010.

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Koller’s basic plans seem sound. Nationally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics sees a faster than average employment growth with excellent job prospects over the next decade for computer and information systems managers.

But it’s hard to see that rosy future.

Koller figures he has about six weeks of unemployment benefits left and about two months of savings after that. Thanks to a stint in the Marines, he gets health care through the Veterans Administration. But he has to hope that a recovery in the IT business will come soon.

“While there is hope I won’t have to find free food and housing, things are very precarious,” he says. “My immediate value in the job market has increased quite a bit, and my long term plans are looking slightly better.”

Today, in the mail, I received an application from an IT consulting firm. It is regarding a help desk position with good pay I applied to on craigslist. In my cover letter I included my current fluid goals and told them to ‘challenge me to the point of abuse.’

I know a mailed application is still no guarantee, but in this economic mess, even an emailed rejection letter is rare good news. This is genuine hope.

BONUS INFO: Read our October and November posts on Koller and his job search.

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