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Unemployed Managers Seek New Posts Through Do-It-Yourself Job Agency

August 11, 1987|JOHN TIGHE | Times Staff Writer

For the first time in his life, David Wade wondered whether he was a loser as he arrived at the state employment office and realized that he was "one of them."

Wade, who has an MBA degree and 10 years of management experience, had just lost his job as a production superintendent at Corona Clipper Co.

As Wade soon discovered, he was not alone. Despite Orange County's relatively bright employment picture, thousands of white-collar managers, professionals and engineers are out of work at any one time.

In Wade's case, the negative thoughts didn't last long. With bills to pay and a career to restore, he didn't have time for frustration.

Within three weeks he joined Success Plus in Fullerton, one of 18 self-help agencies started by the state within the last year to help unemployed professionals. The agency's official purpose is to match employers and middle managers, but it also strives to shore up sagging morale, confidence and support among unemployed managers, professionals and engineers.

Frances Carey, coordinator of the program, estimates that the unemployment rate for Orange County middle managers is at least 12%, which would dwarf the overall county rate of less than 4%. Not only are more middle managers unemployed, they often spend longer periods looking for work, Carey said. For example, it's been six months since Wade lost his job managing 75 workers.

"There aren't listings at the unemployment office for middle management positions," said Jone Pearce, an associate professor of administration at UC Irvine, explaining one of the characteristics of the small, highly competitive job market for middle managers.

Single Paid Staff Member

Orange County's market is especially tough because of the boom-and-bust cycle of county businesses and because many companies are small and relatively new. As a result, high-level positions are often filled by top management rather than by personnel offices. Even finding out about openings can be an elusive task.

That's the purpose of Success Plus, an executive job search agency. In contrast with most head-hunting firms that are run by professional job-finders, Success Plus is run by its unemployed members, and Carey is the only paid staff member.

Members solicit area employers for job openings, mail monthly bulletins with member profiles to thousands of companies and match companies' employment needs with qualified members.

Information regarding job openings furnished to Success Plus is available only to its members, who must spend at least four hours each week working in the club's offices at the state's Employment Development Department in Fullerton. In fact, many spend a large part of the day at the office managing their personal job searches.

Since the agency was created last November, 500 people have joined Success Plus, and roughly half have found jobs. Just 5% have been discouraged and dropped out of the program, Carey said.

Up to 20 unemployed professionals or recent college graduates enter the program each week. Confidence building and other forms of "attitude adjustment" are the objectives of an initial five-day classroom program. The members are then trained to enhance their job-hunting prospects using techniques such as videotaped interviews.

"Many of them have looked for jobs only once before in their lives," Carey said.

"You might expect it to be a cemetery. It's not. It's people busy at work looking for jobs because they know it doesn't do any good to worry."

Oil Recession Catches Up

"Employers don't care about your worries," echoed Wade, who has held five jobs during the 10 years since he graduated from college.

Ed Arnold, 45, is another club member who knows well the sometimes-unsettled nature of Orange County business. He was a project engineer at Energy Management Corp. in Los Alamitos until May, when a continuing oil industry recession finally caught up with his company. And he had lost another job in 1984, when the French technology company for which he worked halted U.S. production.

Another member, Bob Slaght, took early retirement after 23 years as a placement officer at Fullerton College. At age 61, he wants to keep working. His problem is tough competition. He received a second interview for an airport management position, but he was up against candidates who had spent their lives in aviation and were younger.

"If age isn't a factor to the job seeker, it won't be to the employer," Carey said, but reality may be a little rougher than that: When Slaght told one personnel manager his age, he was advised that the company wanted someone younger who was going to stay for a long time.

Slaght spends long days at Success Plus, and in April he began teaching the orientation classes while Carey was on vacation.

'Keeps Them Active'

Pearce, at UC Irvine, said the availability of the club's office as a base for a job search helps keep unemployed managers on track. "It keeps them active and thinking of work," Pearce said.

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