55+s Sharpen Job Skills at HCC
Complete 10-week Course, Graduated 12/18

BRIDGEPORT - For Frances Smith of Bridgeport, it means adding computer skills to the credentials she'll take with her when she graduates from Waterbury's Post University in May.

For Jean-Ene Thomas of Bridgeport, it means becoming reacquainted with the job-hunting skills needed to get him back into the banking business.

For Dorothy Robles, it means getting the computer skills she needs to rejoin the workforce in the competitive secretarial field.

Smith, Thomas and Robles are among some 30 students who enrolled in the "Maturity Works for Business" program offered at Housatonic Community College. Funded with a U.S. Department of Labor Grant made available through The Workplace Inc. of Bridgeport, the program is designed help people 55 and over who are underemployed or unemployed to improve their marketability so they can return to the workforce. Only three such grants were awarded nationally, and HCC is the only community college to be used as a resource in this fashion.

The 10-week program, which began Oct. 1, brought the students to Housatonic for five hours per day, five days per week, for crash courses in subjects such as computer skills; client orientation and customer service; public speaking; written and verbal communication; and group dynamics, including team building, decision making, and dealing with different points of view.

"The workplace has been changing at a dizzying pace in recent years, requiring new and different skills from job candidates," says HCC Workforce Development Coordinator Leigh Roberts. "These programs are designed to ensure that these job candidates have the skills today's employers require."

This is what brought Robles to the class. Robles is looking something that will give her the advantage in today's competitive job market for secretarial work. "I was told that, if you have computer certificates, you will get in the door," she said. "One course in this program leads to a certificate in Microsoft Word. Hopefully, that will give me the competitive edge."

Smith, who received her associate degree in Human Services from HCC, also attended the program for the computer skills. "This will give me the computer skills I need for today's job market," she said.

The program also offers courses in job hunting that include writing cover letters appropriate to the position being sought; marketing yourself - negotiating, creating a portfolio, making a good first impression on paper and in person; and advanced interviewing skills.

This is something Thomas feels would be of value. "I haven't had to conduct a job search in more than 20 years," Thomas said. "I have to get reoriented to the job search environment."

That's why job-search skills are part of the maturity works package, Roberts said. "Job-hunting today is a science in itself," she said. "With the weak economy and high unemployment rates nationally, it's a buyer's market, and the buyers are looking beyond qualifications to the personal attributes that ensure employees will be a good fit for the company and the positions."

"All too often, the job goes not to the person who is most qualified, but to the person who presents himself or herself the best," she said. "The job-search related courses are designed to help these candidates do just that."

That sits just fine with Thomas, Robles, and Smith.

The next step for them and their classmates is a job-training "boot camp" at The Workplace, where they'll get hands-on job-search experience. They'll spend some 15 hours per week during the month of January developing and implementing a job-search plan that will hopefully land them a job.