Magazine article Techniques

More Than a Job

Magazine article Techniques

More Than a Job

Article excerpt

Darlene Lewis wanted more out of life, including a rewarding and promising career. Like thousands of adults seeking a job change, Lewis's best resource was the career exploration program at a local technical center where she got the tools she needed to take her first important steps.

There comes a time when you realize that you can do better, Darlene Lewis says. Her moment came last February after accepting another factory job at Pre-Mark Inc., in Piqua, Ohio. Struggling to run a heavy plastic cover for an industrial food mixer through a machine to trim its rough edges, Lewis tripped and fell.

"I knew then that I wasn't physically able to do the job," Lewis says. "It was a definite sign to change things--a sign I couldn't ignore like I had before."

But Lewis's epiphany came in fits and starts, hampered by lack of confidence and personal obligations. While working at Pre-Mark in 1990, Lewis enrolled in business courses at Edison Community College in Piqua but dropped out to take care of her teenage niece's baby. Then, after 10 years of factory work, Lewis lost her job to downsizing in 1997.

When she visited Piqua's unemployment office she learned about the Applied Tech Center (ATC) at Upper Valley Joint Vocational School and enrolled. But when Pre-Mark came calling again a few months later, she left the ATC. "Not a good move," she admits. "But I wasn't confident in my ability to learn, and factory work was what I was used to. I thought it was all I could do.

"But the second time around when I left my job, I knew the answer to my job problems was to make myself more marketable--not limit myself to factory work. I needed a career, not a job."

Carolyn Maddy-Bernstein, director of the state support project and office of student services at the National Center for Research in Vocational Education, says adult career exploration programs, which mostly serve women and low-income individuals, are becoming an integral part of the nation's education system. As hot career markets shift and adults' personal needs and interests evolve, the demand for career exploration services continues to grow. Adults will change their career up to seven times in a working life span, according to the Department of Education.

That's nothing new, says Maddy-Bernstein. "People are realizing that career exploration is as important for adults as for secondary students." The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that three-fifths of the 50.6 million projected job openings in the next seven years will result from workers who change their occupation. "Chances are we won't stick to one career," she says. "So we need effective, solid places to help us explore other options."

Lewis is one of thousands of adults nationwide using career reentry programs to explore different fields. In a corporate culture where most adults switch careers multiple times, reentry centers--with assessment testing, career literature, exploration software, counseling, skills training, guest speakers, job shadowing and specific classes on job skills and different careers--are helping adults get on the fast track to Success.

A jump start

For Lewis, time was of the essence. "Factory work was out. But I couldn't spend a lot of time in college because I needed a job right away."

Debra Furnas, an instructor at the ATC, walked Lewis through the center's program. Expressing an interest in computers, Lewis took a number of assessment tests to see if she was suited for it. Furnas helped build her confidence through one-on-one conversations and career counseling. "That was the biggest hurdle, Lewis says. "I really wanted to get out of the factory and quit selling myself short. I had to make myself believe that I have a brain, that I can do more than just putting in a screw."

Lewis then took a variety of computer training classes and learned Excel, Access and Word. She also took a communications class to improve her listening skills, telephone techniques and conversation style. …

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