Whether the news comes suddenly or with some warning, losing a job can feel like a gut punch. While the emotional fallout that comes with a job loss often is inevitable, a strong labor market and low unemployment mean many who are laid off won’t stay that way for long.
Between the impending shuttering of the Kimberly-Clark Corp. Neenah Nonwovens plant and numerous retail location closures, including several Shopko stores and the Sears and Younkers at the Fox River Mall, the Fox Valley Workforce Development Board (FVWDB) has been responding to several situations.
Kimberly-Clark announced in January it would close its nonwovens facility on March 31, putting 74 out of work. Sears at the Fox River Mall will also close in late March, and Shopko is in the process of closing stores across Northeast Wisconsin.
Peter Thillman, vice president of economic development and workforce for the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce, says despite the losses, there’s no shortage of opportunities available. The Appleton unemployment rate as of December 2018 was 2.4 percent, and he estimates there are two or three job openings for every one unemployed person.
“That gives you an idea of how tight the labor market is that you have so few available to fill existing positions,” he says.
Anthony Snyder, CEO of the FVWDB, says whether someone is transitioning from a role at Kimberly-Clark or a retail job, his organization is there to help.
“We see our role as twofold. First, we want to show the workers being laid off that there is hope and losing a job isn’t necessarily an end, but a chance for a new beginning,” he says. “We also know that so many of our local employers are hurting for workers, so any layoff — small or large — means a chance to help guide them to where employers are hiring.”
Snyder describes Kimberly-Clark as a “preeminent employer” in the region that offers wages and benefits that might exceed the norm. At the same time, he says the region is lucky to be home to many other top employers that are currently hiring, including Oshkosh Corp., Bemis, Plexus, Mercury Marine and Sargento Foods. The goal, he says, is for individuals working with FVWDB to find a new role with compensation that matches or exceeds what they were earning.
A variety of challenges can arise for those who have lost a manufacturing job, especially if they lack a high school diploma. While a college degree is not needed for many roles, having a GED is critical, Snyder says. In addition, workers might not have up-to-date LinkedIn profiles or struggle to translate their job skills to paper when updating a resume, he says. Workforce Development Board job centers can help with these job readiness skills.
For those who’ve lost a retail job, Snyder says the reflex often is to jump into a similar role without considering other possibilities. This could be a missed opportunity.
With the proliferation of self-service kiosks, cashier jobs are becoming endangered, Snyder says. In addition, working in retail often requires working nights, weekends and holidays. Transitioning to a job in another industry such as manufacturing could provide better pay, benefits and opportunities for advancement, he says.
The FVWDB can provide financial resources to help laid-off workers gain some additional training to fill much-needed roles, including welders, truck drivers, manufacturing maintenance technicians, medical technicians and CNAs, and IT and call center workers.
Laid-off workers may face other challenges in the area of finances, transportation, insurance and housing. In these cases, FVWDB career planners can help connect individuals to social service agencies, such as Goodwill, FoodShare Employment and Training, and the Financial Information and Service Center (FISC).
“If I could offer one bit of advice for any worker being laid off, visit your local job center to speak with a career counselor about the options available to you,” Snyder says. “While retail and other service-related jobs have always been an important part of our economy, there are thousands of higher-paying professional roles you might qualify for with some quick boot camp or certificate training.”
Patti Jorgenson, vice president for student and community development at Fox Valley Technical College, says the college is ready to help those affected by layoffs. In recent years, laid-off workers have been able to find jobs fairly quickly, but for those looking to further their education, the school offers many resources, she says.
The process can seem overwhelming to people at first, and they often overlook career exploration as a way to pursue something new. To help mitigate this, admissions specialists can have in-depth, one-on-one conversations and help prospective students match skills and interests with a new field.
Working with workforce development connections, FVTC can help connect people to benefits available and figure out financial aid. It also offers college success and computer skills courses to help prepare new students.
“It’s really fun to watch them flourish,” Jorgenson says of those who pursue a new field of study. “In a weird way, it gives people the freedom to do something they always wanted to do.”
Filling much-needed roles in the workforce or gaining new skills benefits workers and employers alike, and that knowledge can provide comfort to those facing the uncertainty of a layoff.
“What we’d like to stress to anyone finding themselves out of work is first: Breathe. Take a breath,” Snyder says. “Take some time to assess your situation and know that you will emerge from this with a job.”
Anthony Snyder, CEO of the Fox Valley Workforce Development Board, says everyone should be prepared in the event of a layoff. Simple steps include maintaining an updated resume and LinkedIn account, spending time learning new skills and keeping a broad network of business relationships.
To learn more about the FVWDB, visit foxvalleywork.org.