This article first appeared here on Aug 29, 2009
7 Ways To Come Out Of Prolonged Unemployment
Written by: Gilbert Goh
Many readers I met have been out of work for many months. Many also experience joblessness lasting more than a year. One I met was jobless for more than 2 years surviving on his savings and doing odd jobs along the way. As a guide, people who are out of work for more than 9 to 12 months are deemed to belong to this prolonged unemployment group. Aparently, there is a sizeable proportion of the working population that belongs to this troubled group – mostly in their 40s and 50s.
As many as 50,000 people who are out of work may have fallen into this jobless category causing much headache to the government.
The technical word for this group of workers is long termed unemployed (LTU). Many of them are mainly retrenched workers, axed during the recent global financial crisis, and came saddled with obsolete skills and have difficulty adjusting to a new economy. Many will need to upgrade their skills to prepare themselves for a second career with lower salary expectation and having to start all over again like a new kid on the block.
Having stayed jobless for 18 months during the Sars period personally, I could empathsize with the LTU’s situation. You send out hundreds of job applications weekly and interviews that you attended all turned out fruitless. Every time you don’t hear from any employer after another interview, your self confidence took a step back. Your head hung lower and you wonder whether if you are destined to stay jobless forever. That thought did come to me as the world seems to go pass me. It was a tough period and people in prolonged unemployment needs alot of resolve and mental strength to hang on. Self esteem is at an all time low and it takes alot of self confidence to ignite the engine again. The mind also works slower when one is out of work for a long period.
However, readers who belong in this category can find solace in my situation as I have moved out of this tag and are very much a better person after that awful period. I have learned to be more flexible than before and very opportunistic. It is as if my honing radar is very switched on now to look out for opportunistics. I remembered I took on a life-changing opportunity to work and teach in China only after a short discussion with my wife. Prior to that, I would not even entertain such thoughts more out of not wanting to come out of my comfort zone than anything else. I also became more resilient as a result of that prolonged period of joblessness. Something happened during that period and I could feel that something inside of me has changed. I am sure many people in prolonged unemployment will agree with me on this.
Unfortunately, people in a state of prolonged unemployment tends to be comfortable wherever they are. It is not that they want to stay unemployed, it is just that the whole mental and physical being have adjusted to being not working. They may also follow a routine that after a long while may take alot of discipline to come out of it. Lets face it – if possible we won’t want to work as it can be boring and stressful especially in our suffocating working culture. Some who left their former work places in acriminous circumstances also have this phobia to return to the work force. If possible, they want to enjoy the peace and quiet at home living simply with whatever savings they have so far.
I have listed seven ways to come out of prolonged unemployment. For some of us, unless we are desperate financially, we will take our time to return to the work force. Prolonged unemployment can also be bad for our social well being as no one can feel that they are plugged into the society if they continue to live their life alone at home all day. While we work we also intreact with our colleagues enhancing our social well being and self esteem. Nothing beats doing a hard day’s work and being able to see the fruits of our work at the end of the month when we stand behind the ATM machine.
LTUs need to believe in themselves once more or else no one else will believe in them. Alot needs to come from the inside.
1. Make a decision to return to the work force
Though jobless for 18 months, I have taken up several short term contracts doing telemarketing. Lasting between one to three months, such jobs have given me much needed financial resources and broke the monotony of staying at home. It also helps to keep your mind in shape.
People in prolonged unemployment can look for short term work to get by – at least to get out of the house for a period on a regular basis. Many short term work can be located through telemarketing companies, recruit agencies and newspaper advertisement.
I got two telemarketing contracts from the newspaper advertisement and proved to be a life saver for me as if not I would be a living cocoon stucked at home.
A reader in prolonged unemployment situation told me that he helped out at his mother’s egg stall regularly and this has helped him used up the free time wisely. The time spent at the stall also helped him to bond more with his ageing mother.
So, make a decision to return to the work force and doing short term contract job may be the start that you need before taking off. Very often, what the mind sets out to do will be accompanied by active participation of the body and emotion.
2. Know what you want for yourself
Our government has always advocated that the unemployed go for upgrading skills to be more job-ready but what is the right training programme for someone who is jobless already for a year or two?
Our retraining programmes, such as those initiated by e2i and CDCs, are all heavily subsidised and many merely pay not more than 10% of the course fee. Training allowance is also avaluable to those who are in need and it seems that this is a heaven-send initiaitve benefitting the unemployed.
However, to my shock, I realised that many who attended our retraining programmes are actually not really jobless. Many training programmes are attended however by workers sent by their companies as there are no work to be done at the work places. Workers attending such upgrading courses have their pay tab picked up by the government saving companies from retrenching them in the process as there is no work to be done at the companies.
LTUs can still benefit from retraining programmes by asking themselves what do they really want to do for a second career? At the age of 40s to 50s, many may have realised that the best money making days may be behind us. We can only hope that we can do something that we like now. Work should now become a joy rather than a chore. Though some of us still have to support our family, one should adjust to a lower salary range and scout out whatever limited opportunities available in the job market.
Do not follow the crowd when it comes to attending upgrading courses. I see some readers all rushing into one particular course that has a long waiting list only to regret taking it later. Many simply sign up for the course when their friends are also doing it. Many have also used it as a networking opportunity.
I wanted to be in the social service all along and when I decided to upgrade it was not a difficult decision for me. I worked part time in a family social service and tooked on a certificate in counselling – sponsored by the company.
I later worked towards a diploma in psychology – also sponsored by another company. After that, I earned my graduate diploma in social science on my own never wavering from my dream. Soon after, I founded a non profit organisationing – Transitioning.org, helping many to transit during unemployment. It is now a registered NPO with the registrar of societies.
LTUs need to spend some time going through what they really want for themselves. They need to go through what is available in the market and look for a match. When the whole process is to help in the pursuit of a dream never can dissuade the person from achieving his passion.
Readers who have difficulty finding their passion can email me and I see how I can help you here.
3. Get family involvement
My family helps me alot during the long period that I was unemployed. They stood by me and never ceased to push me out to take up any job. I know many wives who will nag and harass their husbands to take up a job even though they dislike them. Some husbands have no choice but to desperately hunt for a job just to avoid their wives’ nagging routine.
LTUs should discuss with their family members their life goal – what they want to do and how they can accomplish them along the way. Unless husbands talk to their family members about their plan, one can’t really blame them for mistaking that he is just a bump that refuses to work!
Suffice to say, a family that is supporting and encouraging, can help to put an LTU back on his feet again faster than one who has poor support.
With a low self esteem and some not even have enough left in their tank to push on for another mile, family support is vital for LTUs to get their feet back again in the work force.
4. Find support from fellow LTUs
The human race is a particular species that find solace in gathering together. They can progress remarkably well if they can find the relevant support from the community. Their problem seems lighter and easier to solve if they can that they are not alone with their own problem. Many others have also face the same issue and have overcome them before.
I was fortunate to have strong support from my own church group who never failed to encourage me along the way. There were alsosome friends that I count count on for morale and financial support. To these days, I have never forgotten about their generiosity and they were one of the main reason why I could escape unscathed from those dark days. Of course, it took a lot of humility for me to open up my situation to them. One key element for LTUs to find support is to humble themselves first and not allow the ego to take precedence here. When you do your part the rest will ultimately follow. That is the law of the nature I guess.
Too many fellow LTUs I found tend to keep their problem to themselves. Perhaps, it is our Asian culture that inhibits sharing of our problem to others. Of course, many well meaning friends when you share with them your problem, also took the wrong discourse and dispensed solutions to them. All LTUs simply need is a good listening ear and that the friend is always there whenever he needs to unload off his chest.
5. Learn to find your life’s mission
As LTUs normally are in their 40s – 50s age group, I am sure that many want to do something that left a ever lasting legacy behind – there are simply not many days left when we will depart from this world. Like many here, I am not really into money making when I gew older.
Suffice to say, some will not have this luxury of choosing something that they like to do as financially some will need to take up any job to get by for their family members. For this group, survival over takes their intrinsic interest work wise.
I want to do something intangible – stuff that touches people lives. Call me sentimental or silly but there are things that I do these days that do not make my professional resume looks good anymore.
By running this non profit organisation full time, I have not drawn an income for many months and in fact I have to give away cash to people who are more in need than me. Many of us attached our work to an income and this is only right. we all should be paid for an honest day of work. I have also duplicated some of the things that I have done in Singapore to Sydney right now. We just started a support group in Sydney on 28 Aug and it was a dream came true. Though the group only has four participants on the first session, I resolved to ensure that the group will carry on and hopefully more people in transition will join us.
There will be those out there who may want to do some meaningful voluntary work that does not pay at all or simply paying peanuts. Of course, some breadwinners will be unable to work in such jobs due to practical reasons.
There are many needs out there that require someone who dares to sacrifice themselves so that they will left a legacy behind. Too many of us live our life too flippantly when we can, through some serious planning, curve out a meaningful career for ourselves benefitting many people along the way.
6. Do things that help boost the self esteem
I understand that many LTUs battle depression and often a low esteem. Some have alot of self doubts about their abilities and a few may need lot s of affirmation before they can go back to the work force. Many who are being retrenched often blame themselves for not doing a good job when this is furthest from the truth. Some employers have no choice but to retrench staff as there is no work to be done. Marketing and sales staff are always the first to go and the “last in first out” philosophy often happens to new staff. Questioning your capabilities when you are being laid off is both unnecessary and self harming. The soonest one stop the self harming game the better it will be for the recently laid off. If not, they will wallow in self pity and join those in the LTU group.
As they wake up daily to a meaningless routine and staying very home-bound, many even hate to go downstairs for fear that some may enquire on their work status. Every well meaing enquiry frim a good neighobur is a stab to their self image and confidence.
I have met many LTUs in my work here to realise that the longer one stays unemployed, the worse the situation gets. Some even doubts their capability when offered a job – rejecting the offer in the process!
LTUs need to consciously do things to boost up their self esteem. For example, some I know go for the various retraining courses to stay in tune with the market. I find that this is a wonderful way to keep one’s mood in the high as the person is out of the house regularly and he also mixes around with other people in transition. There is support when you mix with people regularly. We are never meant to be alone all by ourselves.
During my period of prolonged joblessness, I also wrote alot and to date, at least one hundred articles were printed in most of the major newspapers’ forum columns in Singapore. I also took time to write a book “How to survive unemployment” and am embarking on my second book now. Thus, we all can make good use of the extra time on hand to do something that we have no time to do all along.
In this aspect, e2i has done a wonderful job of allowing people in transition to attend their many short courses almost free of charge. A friend went for a one-day executive worshop for PMETs (professional, managerial, executive and technician) and continued with other sort term courses that lasted a few days. He also got to know others in transition and have being able to gain from their support.
7. Set a deadline on when to go back to the workforce
For LTUs, it is always good to set a deadline on when you can get back to the workforce. Often, what the mind sets out to do is accompanied by active participation of the body and emotion. For example, if you are jobless for a year, you can set a time frame of another three months of intense job searching so that your vision of landing a job may materialise within the three months.
It is hope that LTUs can find some solace from this article and learn to move on with their life. It is never good to be jobless for too long. It hurts our pocket, esteem and also may hamper our family’s abiility to support us. There is a limit to how long our family can hold on when we suffer from prolonged unemployment. Ourchildren will also find it difficult to respect us when we daily stay at home and face the four walls.