During her first 20 years as an executive secretary, Marianne Williams worked for three companies--leaving one job for another only when she received a promotion and better pay.
During her last 10 years as an executive secretary, Williams also worked for three companies. But in each case, they left her, not the other way around.
So last year, at age 50, Williams found herself in the same boat as thousands of others in Southern California: adrift in a churning economy, laid off again by a company that was consolidating, relocating or just cutting its work force.
"I was never laid off because I did something wrong," she said. "[But] after it happens again and again, you start to thinking, 'Maybe I did something wrong. Maybe I am not good enough.' "
Then, on a Sunday afternoon in January, Williams found the confidence to do something she had been too insecure to do before. She responded to a newspaper ad. Not about a job, but about a program that promised to train her for work in the travel industry.
"I've been here seven months," said Williams, who completed the course and now works for Princess Cruises. "And I'm having a ball."
The S.E.R. Travel Academy that gave Williams a new start is one of scores of federal Job Training Partnership Act programs countywide that offer a second chance to those forced to find new careers at an age when they might have been settling in toward retirement.
The Lawndale travel academy, in the hub of the South Bay aerospace community devastated by layoffs in the 1990s, has been operating for just over a year. And in that time, the nonprofit program has seen about 80% of its 100-plus graduates move from jobs in engineering and manufacturing to the travel industry.
Countywide, efforts like the academy provide career counseling, training and job placement for about 20,000 dislocated workers a year, said Ken Kessler, employment and training director for the Job Training Partnership Act program administered by the county and the Private Industry Council.
Still, Kessler said, the need is greater than the resources. There are only enough funds, he said, to reach about 6% of those eligible in Los Angeles County for retraining and assistance under the act's programs for dislocated workers.
And with welfare reforms limiting long-term aid for able-bodied workers, future needs could be even greater. "Putting somebody to work is the essence of welfare reform," Kessler said. "So . . . there has to be a tremendous tie-in with programs we are running."
Toward that end, some programs like the travel academy are increasing in size--a new office will open this month in or near Long Beach.
Just as the county and cities offer programs in growing industries such as entertainment, the travel academy provides an intense eight-week course for work with airlines, cruise lines, hotels, travel agencies, even car rental companies.
The classroom instruction, based upon training provided by American Airlines at its travel academy in Dallas/Fort Worth, includes geography, customer service and sales techniques. Students also are trained on American Airlines' SABRE computer system, one of the world's largest, which is used by that airline and countless travel industry companies.
"They don't have to pay for it," instructor Linda Moseley said of the training. "But they have to be committed [to graduate.]"
Instructor Elaine Kelly said companies requiring two years' experience with the computer system have found the academy's graduates sufficiently proficient after training that lasts eight weeks.
Before the instruction begins, however, many students find that their biggest obstacle is a lack of self-confidence, according to Kelly and other program instructors.
"The No. 1 problem sometimes is their self-esteem," said instructor Beth Landa.
For that reason alone, she and others said, completing the course is more than just a chance at a new career. It is a time of redemption.
"I am not a crier," Landa said, "but I have found myself with tears rolling down my face" during graduation ceremonies.