Joanne Kocik, Career Specialist with Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College (WITC) discusses the challenges faced by displaced workers and the variety of technical college services available for displaced individuals.
Interview with Joanne Kocik
Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College (12:30)
Announcer: This is Making Futures; helping individuals discover their passion and fulfill their potential.
Interviewer: Despite an improving economy, Wisconsin businesses have laid off hundreds of employees in the past few years. Wisconsin's Technical Colleges are helping many displaced workers find new confidence and new careers through education. Today I'm speaking with Joanne Kocik, Career Specialist with Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College. She's going to help us to understand what the colleges are doing to help these displaced workers. Joanne, how do you describe "displaced workers"?
Joanne: Well, I think it depends on the plant or the business closing, because you will find a variety of ages and demographics of the workers, but I would say in general probably the typical age range of a displaced worker would be between like 20 and 70, but most of them are, I would say fall in the range of 35 to 55 years.
Interviewer: And are these folks... do they have families that they're supporting?
Joanne: Yeah, I would say probably 50% of them are single-earner households, I would say about 50% are married households. What we find sometimes with dislocated workers in a certain plant, that.. I would say probably 20% of the time the couples are married or both of them are working at the same plant. So that becomes a dilemma for some of them.
Interviewer: Wow. That's a really big impact.
Joanne: And I would say probably if you look at their work backgrounds, I would say most of the displaced workers we tend to work with have more general skills; more like general assembly skills. But you know, there are a number of people who have specialized skills as well, like welding or machining.
Interviewer: How about their education level?
Joanne: Most of them that we work with, probably most of the plant closing that we see around the state, I would say the majority have a high school diploma. Not a very high percentage do not have a high school diploma at all. That's a good thing. But we're still finding that the biggest part of them have some high school diploma maybe with some college classes, but not a completed course load.
Interviewer: Joanne, would you describe the emotional state of displaced workers? What are they going through?
Joanne: I think they really kind of go through stages. My experience has been that they usually start out with that shock factor at first. Maybe kind of a denial stage too, where they are surprised that their plants been closing, that even though maybe they've kind of heard wind of it in the past, they're really still have that initial shock. And then they go through that denial stage thinking 'Well, maybe I'll be saved. You know, I won't have to... I won't be laid off.' And then I think they kind of go through an anger stage where they're mad, don't know what to do, felt like they're being impacted by the employer on purpose. And then I think they finally come around to that stage where they feel that, 'You know what, I need to now move on and find something else to do.'
Interviewer: Would you say that many of these folks need extra encouragement to go back to school?
Joanne: Oh, very much so. A lot of them, I'd say the vast majority, need that additional encouragement. They need to know that there's something else out there for them to do and that they can do it, and I think that's the biggest thing is, they just, a lot of them maybe didn't have a good experience in high school and for them to go to college now just seems like a daunting task for them.
Interviewer: So what are their needs at this point when they come to you and they decide they want to enroll?
Joanne: A lot of the needs I think start with family. You know, life changes there with the family. They're not going to be going to work everyday now, 'How am I going to pay the bills if I come back to school? I might be able to get unemployment while I'm attending school and maybe get assistance with schooling.' But they just aren't sure that that's going to be able to cover all their household expenses, so I think they have some need to be looking at lifestyle changes, maybe while they're going to school, how that's going to impact the family. You know, if I have to study and then I have children at home that I need to get to an activity, but I need to study, how am I going to balance that time and…. So a lot of time I tell these dislocated workers, you're just going to be using different brain cells and it's going to hurt at first, but we're going to be able to get you through this.
Interviewer: So what are the ways that the college meets the needs of these displaced workers?
Joanne: Well, I think that most colleges work with the area Workforce Resource Department in finding out what resources are available to them outside of the college as well. Also the college provides career awareness information or, like labor market information. You know, what are going to be the up and coming jobs, how do you get ready for those, you know along with the regular information of educational opportunities that each school offers.
Interviewer: Joanne, what kind of advice do you give at that first meeting?
Joanne: Usually what we do at the first meeting is to really spend time listening to the dislocated worker. Sometimes it kind of needs... right away in their mind, venting if you want to call it that. But then we get into asking them what heir background is. Sometimes they might have some skills in their background that they kind of forgot they had, or maybe with some prior educational schooling they had, and what we do is try to find ways to take the skills that they currently have and kind of tell them 'Let's try to repackage your skills into maybe what another employer wants.' Because a lot of times they're not really sure where their skills would transfer to another company.
Interviewer: I could see that happening. If you've been in a job for a very long time, it's very hard to consider other options.
Joanne: Right. And you're used to doing that same thing everyday, and you don't realize that maybe those skills could be tweaked or worked upon a little bit, and then they will apply to another company. You know, another company will see those as valuable skills.
Interviewer: What types of financial assistance are available for displaced workers to get an education?
Joanne: Most displaced workers are eligible for what's called the TAA Program, Trade Adjustment Assistant Program, through the federal government. That's if their plant or industry were impacted by foreign trade, or foreign competition I should say. Then those companies need to apply to the federal government to be TAA eligible for their employees. And we're finding a lot of employees are going back to school under that program. Along with that, there's something called the TRA Program in Wisconsin. It's the Trade Readjustment Allowance Program, where the local workforce resource agencies can provide some money for schooling for these workers to be retrained or reskilled in a new area. So those are available. All the students can apply for financial aid just like any other student would as well. So sometimes they can receive financial aid assistance as well as the TAA or TRA funding.
Interviewer: That sounds good. There's some help out there.
Joanne: Yep. And I think that the workers need to be well informed of the different opportunities that are out there and sometimes that's where we can come in too and let them know their different options and make sure they understand what those options are… that there's always available funding out there for them to attend school.
Interviewer: You mentioned some other local resources. Do you suggest that these folks start with you or come to you first or does it matter?
Joanne: Well, it doesn't matter. If a plant closes or an industry closes that has 50 or more employees, the workforce resource agencies would be notified and they would really be the leaders on providing them with all the different resources that are available to them. And then they bring us into the fold with those, as one of their resources. Otherwise we have workers that come to us directly, and then we direct them to other social services agencies as well in their communities, that might be able to help them with some of those emotional issues that they're going through or just the anxiousness of not knowing how they're going to care for their families while they come back to school.
Interviewer: We've been talking a lot about plant closures, but some workers are laid off without a plant closure and how does all this apply to them?
Joanne: Again, it would be the same parameters for being able to be TAA funded if the plant has 50 or more employees that they lay off. So some of those same services would be available for laid off workers as well as with a plant closing. So even though the whole workforce is not laid off, some of these same programs would be available to those laid off workers.
Interviewer: Do some of theses folks think,'Oh my gosh, it's just going to take me too long to go back to school to get the training.'?
Joanne: And that is an issue for some of them. You know, they're really concerned about being out of the workforce for a long period of time - one or two years – or they're anxious to get started on that new career and want to find a program that is shorter in length. Some of the colleges have developed short-term certificate training programs, which are now TAA eligible for funding. They didn't used to be TAA eligible. That was one of the changes that happened here in the last year or so, was that even certificate programs, which tend to be shorter-term training programs are now TAA eligible as well. So that has helped. You know, we try to stress to the students that with a technical college, we are trying to give them the skills that they need to get a job and we have worked with area employers to make our programs better able to fit the employer's needs. So, you know, employers are telling us they need these courses, they need this type of training, and it just takes that long.
Interviewer: Well that's one way that the college is helping the students get jobs after they complete their programs because the programs are designed specifically for local employers. Are there other ways that the college helps these students get jobs after they've completed their program?
Joanne: Yep, and with all of our programs at the technical college we have to have program advisory boards, and so those are local employers that would have an interest in that program. So a lot of times their leads for jobs for our graduating students as well. Also, the state tech college system has something called TechConnect. It's a great resource for employers to be able to post job openings that they have on TechConnect, and then the students can access those job openings as well. So it's a great online tool for the employers and the graduates to find each other. That's been a real good resource for them as well. Some of the local colleges do pair up with their Workforce Resource Boards again in their area or the Workforce Resource Agency and have job fairs that they conduct on campuses throughout the state, and then some of them also do interviewing days, or interviewing skills days where again we ask the local employers to come in and be able to do practice interviews with our students. But a lot of the times those turn into job leads as well.
Interviewer: That sounds very valuable.
Joanne: It's a really good program and a number of students get the interviewing skill plus get a job lead all in one.
Interviewer: I've been speaking with Joanne Kocik of Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College about helping displaced workers to find new careers. Thanks for speaking with me today Joanne.
Joanne: Oh, you're welcome!
Announcer: Making Futures is a presentation of Wisconsin's 16 Technical Colleges. Thanks for listening.