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Long-term unemployed face changing workplace

Marketplace Contributor Sep 12, 2012

Long-term unemployed face changing workplace

Marketplace Contributor Sep 12, 2012

Sarah Gardner: If you’ve been without a job for a long time — well, let me put it in perspective for you. The long-term jobless rate in this country is the worst since the Great Depression. In fact, the St. Louis fed says about 7 percent of Americans have been unemployed for at least six months, or have gotten so discouraged they’ve stopped looking for work altogether.

But for those long-term unemployed who are lucky enough to eventually find a job again, they may encounter a whole new kind of workplace than the one they left. From the Wealth & Poverty Desk, Krissy Clark has more.

Krissy Clark: At this point, every one of us probably knows someone who’s been out of work for a while. Right before the economy tanked, my sister-in-law, Ellen, took a break from her career in the financial services industry to raise her young kids. She planned to go back to work after a couple years, but the recession had other plans. She finally landed a new job this spring.  On her first day, she realized how much can change in six years. For one?

Ellen: The office is a lot quieter.

Not as many ringing phones, or out-loud conversations. Way more emails. And that fax machine is now a scanner. Little things you don’t notice if they happen over time. But if you have to catch up all at once? Overwhelming.

Take that new version of Microsoft Office. Ellen’s new coworkers have had time to get used to it. She has not. 

Ellen: And the tool bar was completely different. And that just about threw me over the top. Because here I thought I knew how to use the technology, and I sit down to work on the computer and I can’t even figure out how to change my fonts!

Another change?

Ellen: Everybody was younger.

And those fresh faces bring a whole new mindset to the office, according to Tom McBride. He’s author of the Mindset List that follows, among other things, the working habits of each new college class. 

Tom McBride: This is a generation that’s grown up with the idea that they can check their data on their Droid while at the same time jogging.

Or while sitting in a meeting, which can be a little disconcerting if you’ve been away from a conference room for a while. 

Of course the changes aren’t just at white collar workplaces. Leonel Fuentes runs a job-placement center near L.A. called Build WorkSource. One of his clients had been job-hunting for months after the machine shop where he worked shut down. He’d been the parts buyer for 20 years.  And the main tool of his trade was the phone. He’d never used a computer. Now, prospective employers were asking him:

Leonel Fuentes: If he knew how to purchase things on the Internet. And he didn’t know.

My sister-in-law, Ellen, says she can relate. Her approach?

Ellen: Take a deep breath, smile and try to adjust.

I’m Krissy Clark for Marketplace.

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