Program teaches mature workers the skills needed to get jobs in today’s economy

Bridgeport News, Monday, 28 December 2009 18:52

For Frances Smith of Bridgeport, it means adding computer skills to the credentials she’ll take with her when she expects to graduate from Waterbury’s Post University in may 2010.

For Jean-Ene Thomas of Bridgeport, it means becoming re-acquainted with the job-hunting skills needed to get him back into the banking business. And for Dorothy Robles, it means getting the computer skills she needs to rejoin the workforce in the secretarial field.

Smith, Thomas and Robles are among 30 students who enrolled in the Maturity Works for Business program offered at Housatonic Community College (HCC). Funded with a U.S. Department of Labor grant made available through The Workplace of Bridgeport, the program is designed help people 55 and older 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 in the country to be used to teach classes in the program. The 10-week program from October to mid-December 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. Leigh Roberts, HCC workforce development coordinator, said the program was designed to teach participants the skills today’s employers require. “The workplace has been changing at a dizzying pace in recent years, requiring new and different skills from job candidates,” Roberts said.

This is what brought Robles to the class. She 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,” Robles 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; how to marketing oneself; 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,” she said. “I have to get re-oriented to the job search environment.”

Housatonic’s Roberts said modern job-hunting is a science in itself. “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,” she said.

“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,” Roberts said. “The job-search related courses are designed to help these candidates do just that.” Smith, Thomas, Robles and their classmates now will attend a job-training boot camp at the workplace in January, where they’ll get hands-on job-search experience.