Post-Pink Slip Opportunities

Today’s job seekers typically look for “replacement employment” through a variety of high-tech professional networking sites like LinkedIn, Plaxo, Xing, Flicker, Tumblr and YouTube. But when the national employment picture remains bleak month after month, it’s hard to find a job on- or offline. And according to John Silvia, chief economist at Wachovia Corp., “These jobs aren’t coming back. There are going to be fewer stores, fewer factories, fewer financial services operations. Firms are making strategic decisions that they don’t want to be in their businesses.”

The U.S. has experienced recessions before, but with the massive job losses during such a compressed timeframe, some experts predict that the entire U.S. economy is poised for a makeover. The days of corporate power may not return for a long, long time. Company jets, lavish headquarters, and astronomical bonuses are sure to seem as outdated as the typing pool on Mad Men.

There are, however, several ways to deal with a shrinking economy. People who have lost their jobs invariably try to find a new employer, and then, when their search proves futile, look for an “out of the box” solution. Below are several options being explored by employees who have been downsized and have come face-to-face with an unwelcoming job market:

Become an entrepreneur

Even though the economy is shaky and banks are reluctant to lend, thousands of laid-off workers have chosen to say a permanent goodbye to the idea of being an employee. By starting their own small companies, from cleaning services to daycare centers, workers are learning to rely on their own strengths and resources rather than on those of a corporate entity.

For example, since health care was one of the few bright spots in the past year’s economy, providing small-scale home-health services has become a viable business for new entrepreneurs.

Many experts believe that the small companies started by new entrepreneurs will focus on innovative processes, new products and re-designed business models. The last three recessions resulted in increased small-business startups. The limited traditional employment options and high unemployment levels are likely to continue this scenario.

Go back to school

Community colleges have reported a dramatic upswing in enrollment figures of older (over age 50) students. Fields such as health sciences, teaching and alternative-energy programs are particularly appealing to older displaced workers because certification can be earned quickly. But in today’s tight economy, all workers need to upgrade their skills. The idea of embarking on a new path after an established career has atrophied should be helped by the $ 4.5 billion for job training included in the federal stimulus bill.

Volunteer

Many workers have become disenchanted with the whole concept of “make it to the top” competitiveness. And an increasing number of former employees are choosing to focus on “social ambition” rather than personal ambition. For example, AmeriCorps (which specializes in health care, clean energy, support for veterans and fighting poverty) is expected to grow to 250,000 volunteer positions from 75,000. And a $ 1,000 educational grant called “Silver Scholarship” will soon be available to volunteers over 55 who donate 350 or more hours to qualified organizations. “Encore Fellowships” match nonprofit organizations with senior volunteers for one-year management or leadership positions.

For decades, the gold standard of volunteerism has been the Peace Corps, which has seen applications from people 50 and older increase by more than 40 percent. The Peace Corps offers its volunteers comprehensive health coverage; a monthly stipend for clothing, transportation, rent and food; and job-placement support and preferential treatment if applying for a federal job.

There’s no doubt that times are tough. But even with the current dismal job market, there are plenty of ways to re-think what having a job — and a paycheck — really means. Whether you decide to become your own boss, go back to school, or use your skills to help others, opportunities to remain “gainfully employed” are waiting to be explored.

Best selling author Connie Glaser is one of the country’s leading experts on gender communication and women’s leadership issues. Her recently published book, GenderTalk Works, provides an upbeat guide to bridging the gender gap at work. A popular keynote speaker at corporate events, she can be reached at http://www.connieglaser.com

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