14.5 million people in America are officially unemployed. Thousands — perhaps millions — more have given up and are not counted. They’re not numbers; they’re individuals with a story to tell.
Greg Hillenbrand’s unique position affords him the opportunity to provide a message to other unemployed people. “Things will get better,” he told me today. Hillenbrand, 58, of Vadnais Heights is going through his second round of unemployment and he feels better prepared than the first time.
“The second time around is not quite as scary, especially since I’ve attended the workshops offered by the Minnesota Workforce Center. Being laid off a second time, there’s less fear of the unknown,” he said.
Not that unemployment is a picnic, mind you.
Hillenbrand has had two careers. One in manufacturing materials management at five separate local manufacturers where he successfully installed Manufacturing Requirements Planning (MRP) systems. And a second one in software development where he designed and supported software and processes to help manufacturers run their businesses more efficiently.
His software career ended in 2007, when the company downsized. He got almost a year’s worth of pay as severance, but he’d have rather had a job. ” I liked doing it and I was successful at it,” he said. “At that time everybody said, ‘This is a great opportunity. You can do whatever you always wanted to do.’ I took a few weeks to think about it and came to the conclusion that I had already been doing what I wanted to do.”
He started his own company, Tandem Enterprises, in August 2007, working as a consultant for SoftBrands, the firm that laid him off. But business was drying up and it wasn’t enough to pay the bills. In March 2008, he joined InSite Group Consulting, helping customers upgrade their inventory systems. But when the firm ran out of customers in January, Hillenbrand ran out of a job.
“I had a gut feeling that this was coming,” he said. “My manager was very nice about it. We both felt bad and shortly afterward, my manager got laid off.”
“My immediate concern was the health care. It’s what we attacked right away.” Hillenbrand was able to get a health insurance plan from a broker for $700 a month, less than the $1,200 coverage his previous firm’s COBRA plan would’ve required.
He’s not close to destitution by a long shot. He and his wife are empty nesters, he’d set some money aside from his first job’s severance and he says he’s financial conservative, even acting as general contractor when his home was built. “As a result, we have a low mortgage,” he said. But he didn’t get full unemployment benefits because of his severance package.
The first time he lost his job, he said he was reluctant to tell people he was unemployed. “You get over that. The first time I was caught by surprise when I was let go.”
It’s been nine months of ups and downs. “There’s been a number of job opportunities that looked promising, then just kind of dried up. Companies have a tendency not to call you back, and they don’t return calls when you call them,” he said. “For one of the jobs, they said that they were looking for a very specific set of skills or background experiences, but they wouldn’t say what they were.”
When he gets a whiff of a job opportunity, he allows himself to get excited, even if it increases the amount of disappointment when it doesn’t come through. “I think it’s good to get excited,” he told me.
Hillenbrand isn’t interested in retirement. He says older workers benefit companies because they don’t have the responsibilities that take younger people away from their jobs, and they don’t use the job as a stepping stone to still-unfolding careers. But he acknowledges that many companies are looking for young people.
“There doesn’t seem to be a market (for him) because companies have… just like people have gotten afraid of the unknown, companies are holding onto whatever cash they have,” he said
But he says he’s optimistic that once things turn around, there will be a market for someone experienced in software consulting and technical support.
He’s networking online, attending a job support group in Wayzata (where, he hears, more people are reporting getting jobs recently), and today was attending the first of four workshops for the unemployed at the Maplewood Library, sponsored by the Soar For Jobs support group. He’s also volunteered at the Second Harvest Food Bank, worked around the house and lost 12 pounds, “just by not going out to eat lunch.”
“My primary job is to find a job,” he says. “But I’m also learning to survive by making my savings last as long as possible
Check out the map below to read what people in MPR’s Public Insight Network are telling us about the job climate around them.