Finding work, and direction

We’ve met and talked to a lot of Minnesotans — too many — struggling with job loss and all the pain that comes with it. So when those who’ve shared stories with us find jobs, we want to make sure we highlight it.

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Tom Koller’s one of those folks we didn’t want to forget.

An unemployed machinist, he started letting us track his efforts to retrain for a post-recession world.

Last fall, he wrote:

I was a PC tech (several years ago). The industry pretty much died. I did some driving and machinist work. The machine I was taught is not used now. I was laid off for lack of work.

I now need a current certification to get a job in a significantly changed computer industry.

The (Dislocated Worker) program is an effort in progress for me. I am turning 50. I am looking for help from them to get schooling to re-qualify myself for computer work.

By January, he’d been retrained and was ready. But he was still looking for work. It was an unvarnished lesson: retraining doesn’t mean a new economy job is waiting. It’s a fact that’s come to the surface nationally this spring.

When Koller did find work it wasn’t anything that matched his training.

He’d taken a job — “no skill or education required” — picking up and delivering cable TV and internet equipment. With his unemployment benefits exhausted and savings nearly gone, this was his best option.

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So here’s the good news. Koller dropped us a line recently to tell us he found work. Not exactly what he trained for, but something connected to technology. He’s working for a company the refurbishes laser printers.

He’d interviewed with the company a year earlier, he told us. “They told me then that they chose someone else that was about as qualified as me, but had more recent experience. But I was choice number two.”

He got hired recently when they needed another technician.

At this point he says he’s finally making money “equal to what unemployment paid with the cable job.”

And for as much trouble as the Great Recession has caused him, it’s worth noting that the refurb work he’s been hired for jumps during hard economic times.

Stepping back, looking at where he’s been in the past couple years, Koller offers this advice on the jobless journey.

Know your limits, skill, money, education. Figure out new ways to use your limits. Know that to survive, you may not be able to live as you did.

Do not waste time looking for jobs that do not fit your qualifications, even low pay ones. If it is a job everyone is qualified for, everyone is applying. You are gambling on your future, the only thing you can count on, is that things can get worse. Plan to prevent this.

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MinnEcon’s all about sharing the stories of Minnesotans in this economy. Every smarter makes us all a little smarter. Tell us your story about the economy.

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