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Economy presses 3000 vets out of work

Manufacturing firms are cutting through rough waters in 2009, rocked by the same waves that are sending bank stocks below $2 and removing clerks from retail stores in staff cutbacks. The Parker Hannifin Corp. in Cleveland, Ohio had to make cuts recently which sent 22-year veteran Edna Houston to the unemployment ranks. Most of us know someone who's been furloughed, laid off or some other term for less busy than they want to be day-to-day.

Houston took to her blog last week to talk about the steps that her employer, which has used HP 3000s for those two-plus decades, took before cutting staff:

They have explored every possibility to prevent layoffs. Temporary workers and part time staff have already been let go. Remaining personnel have been mandated to use their accrued vacation time down to below 100 hours. Last quarter we were required to take five days off unpaid. This next quarter we are required to take 10 days off unpaid. Merit increases have been postponed for 18 months. Now they have offered workers incentives if they will voluntarily retire or voluntarily quit. But make no mistake about it, layoffs are inevitable. The recession is just too deep.

There was a time not long ago when being idled was an HP 3000 expert's unique situation, unless they learned other skills. But the retreat from business expansion is pushing a much broader range of IT veteran onto the unemployment rolls. We only have fear itself to fear — but the first step toward fearing only fear is to look reality in the eye. The second step is to tell what has happened to you, and then network.

Learning something new and needed might be a third step. Just today my sister-in-law reported that she's passed her tests to become a Ohio State certified Nurse's Aid. The job couldn't be more different from her decade-plus in payables and receiveables. Her former employer was another manufacturing company in the Midwest taking a dip in its business.

Learning something new in the IT skill set is one of the ways to float upward in the downward undertow of today's business currents. This may not be news to some community members, but online training in complementary IT skills — something related to what you know but in a new area of opportunity — is one strategy to follow while you're looking. (No implicit endorsement in the link there to Skillsoft, but you get the idea.) Train from your home office (that's what we independents call it when we leave traditional employment) and put that broadband connection to good use.

Even as the Fed chairman predicts things will turn upward next year, consumer finance TV star Suze Orman thinks it will be another six years before the tide rises instead of ebbs. Nobody knows for sure. However, being unique in your skill set really can help in finding a place to land. The HP 3000 customers who aren't shedding jobs so quickly still rely on the system, even more so now that capital expenditures are being reduced. Add the fact that 3000 experience is becoming rare and you might have a formula for finding work. Houston's situation is new and she's begun a campaign of getting the word out without remorse or blame. Facebook, Linked In: Such resources help you build out a personal network, the asset that can turn the tide for employment future.