COMMENTARY: Why I Owe The Department Of Workforce Development A Huge Thank You

Yeah, I know a lot of people don't think very highly of President Obama's stimulus package. But for me, I wouldn't be here without it.

His name is Antwain and I believe his last name may be Williams (it's actually McIntosh). I never remember who he is until he reminds me and our conversations only last a few minutes. Prior to Antwain, the guy who regularly checked in on me, was Mark Leemkuil. And both of them work for the Department of Workforce Development Center as caseworkers.

They are – in my mind – on the front line for those of us who had become job-seeking warriors. We are/were a motley bunch because in one day we became instantly transformed to the heartbroken, the devastated, the shocked beyond belief and the angry. Dealing with us on a daily basis was/is not an easy task. And this Labor Day, I’d like to give a huge thank you to each and everyone of you who have been trying desperately to help us get a job.

Between Mark and Antwain, Mark knows me a little better.

After getting laid off from the Kenosha News in Oct. 2009 and being in journalism for nine years, I embarrassed myself in front of Mark by crying about how I didn’t know what else I was going to do if I couldn’t be in journalism. I was heartbroken and scared beyond belief. And I had no clue what my next step was going to be.

He explained the services the department offered – resume writing, support groups, access to job leads, interview help. He told me about unemployment compensation, BadgerCare, free and reduced lunches for my kid and other temporary aid. And as he spoke, the irony of all of this had set in: I had written about these services and the number of people unemployed for years, now I was one of them.

That was in 2009. For two years, Mark listened as I grappled with the decision to leave journalism. I was pretty pathetic. I made a video about how journalism had left me as I tried to navigate the job market. He emailed me links to potential jobs in public relations, marketing, fund-raising, communications, grant writing and technical writing as I too searched and networked. How about this, he’d say? And I emailed him back immediately that the resume would be sent, even though I really didn’t want those jobs. Still, I put my game face on and quickly learned that I had no time to be picky.

After six months, nothing had changed. And I looked at how I could retrain myself because I qualified for the “dislocated worker” training program since the newspaper industry was on the "soon to be extinct" list. But what kind of training would I need? We looked at technical writing, grant writing and knowledge management.

"What about web content development," I asked.

“Like web design?” he asked.

“No,” I said. “Web content development and audience engagement. You know – SEO, social media, and end user development.”

He looked at me a little puzzled and I explained that I had seen a number of jobs that were embedded in writing, but I wasn’t qualified for those because I needed more training. “I need to geek up,” I told him. “I don’t know if what I’ll find in the job market would be in journalism, but I didn't mind that.”

So, I had to put a proposal together, find job descriptions, interview employers, find colleges that offered the training and make the argument that this was a solid investment that would net me a better paying. Two months later, I was taking grad-school classes at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee called: “The rhetoric and/of the Internet, information Design, technical writing,” and an independent study in audience engagement. And my last class was actually doing an internship for my former employer implementing a web-based news page that turned out to be a police news map.

And Mark encouraged me to continue on the path when I really wanted to just call it quits.

By the end of the program, I went from being a print newspaper journalist, who loathed the Internet, to being a journalist, who saw the web as a viable and legitimate platform for the news. I became critical about how I write for the web and I realized how writing for the web requires a different set of skills.

So in August, I received my graduate certificate in advanced professional writing with an emphasis in web content development and audience engagement. Still, jobs were still sparse, but then an old boss called me October. And he said he worked for a company called Patch. The rest is history.

Mark left to go to another field office just as I had gotten my job at Patch.

And now every few months, I get a phone call from Antwain asking me how things are going.

“Great,” I say.

“Good to hear. Call me if you need me,” he says.

So this Labor Day, I’d like to give a big shout out to all of those caseworkers who deal with those of us in the middle of a personal and professional crisis that we call being unemployed. And I say, THANK YOU!

Julie A. Jacob September 05, 2011 at 02:46 PM
This is a timely reminder that it is important to provide training and support to people who have lost their jobs. The Chicago Tribune just posted an article about how Americans with jobs seem to be losing empathy for the unemployed, and that's such a shame. We are all one pink slip away from unemployment and we should all support programs to provide education and job-search assistance to those who have lost their jobs.
Duane Michalski September 06, 2011 at 12:39 AM
Denise, I have read this story 3 times now. I can't figure out how stimuls has anything to do with it. Everything you did at workforce development has been there for a long time.
Denise Lockwood September 06, 2011 at 09:44 PM
I qualified for the dislocated workers program, which paid for my half of my graduate certificate. It was funded through the stimulus. If I wouldn't have received that training, I wouldn't be here. I graduated from UW-Milwaukee with a bachelor's degree in 1999, but I had done most of my coursework in 1993 I had one class on publishing software. Since the Internet really hadn't taken off, I was lacking skills that the marketplace wanted and quite frankly I really didn't get this whole Internet business.
Debra Mueller September 06, 2011 at 10:20 PM
I agree with Duane, this dislocated worker program has been in effect, as least since 1995 when I qualified for the dislocated worker program. It is a good program and I am glad it is still in effect. My caseworker, Mr. Tipton, was a great help to me.
Denise Lockwood September 07, 2011 at 12:27 AM
All I'm saying is that the dislocated worker program was funded by the stimulus by $1.25 billion and I benefited from it. Nothin' more, nothin' less...to me it's not a political issue. Not saying it was new, just saying that I was happy to have the help.


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