Looking for work - One way to start

April 11, 1997

(Editor's note: On Sunday, March 30, Bob Maginnis, Herald-Mail's editorial page editor, began a column chronicling the effort by Regina Graber, a 42-year-old Smithsburg woman, to find a job after seven months out of the work force. This is the second column in a series. A shorter version of this column appeared in the April 13 Sunday Herald-Mail.)

The workers in the Boonsboro post office cheered when Regina Graber came in, a few days after her story appeared in The Sunday Herald-Mail. They'd seen her story, she said, and they're rooting for her.

Most reactions to her story have been positive, although she hasn't shown the column to her mother yet. And best of all from her point of view, she's gotten a job.

I say "from her point of view" because the job, checking orders for a stationery supply company, sounds like a killer to me.


It involves working three 12-hour shifts from 7 p.m. to 7 p.m., and another eight-hour day somewhere during the week. After someone packs an order, she'll check it for accuracy before it's sent out.

"I feel like this might be the thing. It's got pretty good pay," she said, adding that "maybe I said the right thing during the interview."

The company did require a drug test, which she passed, and an agility test, which she hadn't taken at the time we spoke.

"It involves my ability to lift and carry," she said.

Asked if she'll mind the night work, she said no, because she'd done it before.

It should work out well with her family, she said, because her children will be getting ready for bed by the time she'll be heading off to work. And, she said, by the time she gets home, they'll he heading off to school.

Asked if the children will miss her in the evenings, Graber said that "they know we need the extra income, and they understand that I have to work."

Even though she's gotten a job, she's still willing to share what happens in her life, although she hasn't had much time to talk lately because the family recently moved to the Smithsburg area.

"The dust is still settling here," she said.

In that first column, I asked readers for constructive criticism. One of the first to call was Bob Jeffers of Manpower, a staffing service located on Western Maryland Parkway west of Hagerstown.

Like a number of people who called, Jeffers said that working a temporary assignment is a good way to get back into the work force, for a couple of reasons.

Many employers are using such services to pre-screen employees for them, and if an applicant lacks training, Manpower can provide it free of charge.

Jeffers said that Manpower trains applicants in specific computer programs (Windows `95, for example) with an interactive video system that allows everyone to move at their own pace.

"My first bit of advice to her would be to be flexible. All the talk we've heard about the changing economy is here," Jeffers said.

"What we see happening with companies like Londontown is happening across the country. The jobs they had for 20 years are fewer and farther between. There's very few unskilled jobs any more," Jeffers said.

Even a job like loading and unloading goods in a warehouse, which was once classified as unskilled, is now much more than that. Employees may take inventory with a bar-code scanner, then download the results into a computer.

But just because someone had a job like cutting fabric at a place like Londontown does not mean they have no skills that can be adapted to another position.

Jeffers said that what was required at Londontown - an attention to detail and a concern about quality and on-time production - are needed in many companies, even if they're not making raincoats.

Can everyone benefit from this training?

Yes, said Jeffers, provided you have a good basic education and a positive attitude.

The process begins with an interview, not for a specific job, but to talk about strengths and weaknesses, Jeffers said. If the applicant wants to work in an office setting, other, more specific testing is done, to assess an applicant's keyboarding skills and their ability to handle people on the phone.

Another example of how good people skills can transfer from one position to another is in the area of customer relations, Jeffers said. Testing has shown that it's not the number of years that you've been doing customer service that matters, but the skills you bring to it. Someone without a lot of formal experience may do just as well as someone with years on the job, Jeffers said.

Those skills are evaluated and honed at Manpower, Jeffers said, adding that in addition to computer training, would-be customer-service reps answer simulated customer calls, one after another, to polish their abilities.

Once you're out on the job, the relationship doesn't end, according to Margaret Rhoads, Manpower's Hagerstown branch manager.

"We feel very strongly our job isn't over until the assignment ends. We stay in touch with the supervisor and the employee, and if there's any coaching needed, we use that information we've gotten to do it."

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