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If you’ve been laid off, pivot your skills into a new career

If you've been laid off, pivot your skills into a new career

Some people think they’ve hit a dead-end when the industry in which they’ve built their career downsizes, temporarily closes or shuts down.

But “there’s no reason to lose hope,” said Kenneth Johnson, president of East Coast Executives, a recruitment firm based in Harlem. “Individuals in any industry can learn to pull out their transferable skills and use them to get a job.”

The hard part is identifying what you have to offer. You’ll need to open your mind to how your skills could apply to jobs off your radar, and be willing to ask for help.

The good news is that many people have done it successfully. Here’s proof.

Acting out

March 13 was a terrible day for 34-year-old Jay O’Neal. A production carpenter on the “Stomp” touring show, he was furloughed.

“At first we thought we might be able to continue by April 15, but the pandemic kept looking worse,” said O’Neal.
At first, O’Neal collected unemployment, but then a friend called and told him about an opportunity hosting virtual team-building events for TeamBuilding.com.

O’Neal, who alternates between building sets and acting, felt he’d make a good fit. During a Zoom job interview, he was asked to share a story that he considered awesome. The idea behind the question, he later learned, was for the company’s management to find out “if you’re cool enough to go camping with.”

O’Neal was first offered the job as a freelancer. Training consisted of familiarizing himself with various team-building activities, including camp-style icebreaker games and s’more making (participants were mailed s’more kits ahead of time).

O’Neal now leads as many as five virtual events per day and is a full-time employee.

Jay O'Neal, a former production carpenter for "Stomp"
Jay O’Neal, a former production carpenter for “Stomp”Jay O’Neal

Midlife career change

Don’t tell Beatrice Sampong Evans that you can’t get started in a new profession if you’re over 50. When the 57-year-old was laid off from her job as an operations supervisor at a Midtown outsourcing firm in April, mentors suggested she take some time before she began her job search to figure out what she’d like to do next.

“They encouraged me to think about what would really excite me,” said Sampong Evans.

That’s something that the Bronx resident hadn’t done before, since she had been content with her work. As part of her career-exploration process, she attended a webinar that included presenters like Kenneth Johnson. At the event, she learned that what you excelled at in your previous jobs doesn’t need to lock you in.

“We teach people to pull out their transferable skills and help them understand that those skills can help qualify them for other opportunities,” explained Johnson.

The employer presenting at the event was Johnson Security Bureau. Sampong Evans liked what she heard from Jessica Johnson-Cope, the company’s president and CEO, so she followed up with a letter and her resume. She now works at the firm as a talent management specialist and earns more than she did in her previous job.

“You have to be open to coaching, willing to connect to association networks and be passionate about doing something new,” said Sampong Evans. “Just because you’ve been doing one thing well for years doesn’t mean that you can’t succeed in something else.”

Food for thought

The coronavirus pandemic presented Hisham Elhag with a new opportunity. The 23-year-old had been a catering captain at Hungry, a business- and event-catering company, and was working in Virginia. When offices closed, there was suddenly no one to cater to. That is, until Hungry’s management team won a new line of business, serving New York City’s elderly who could not leave their homes due to the pandemic.

“My boss asked me if I was willing to move to New York City,” said Elhag. Though he was “extremely scared,” he agreed, especially since the choice was between getting an increase in pay or being furloughed.

Today, Elhag lives in lower Manhattan and manages a crew delivering 1.5 million meals to shut-in seniors across the city.

Finding the green

For Enrique Herrera, a 23-year-old resident of the Upper East Side, the pandemic pulled his job as a carpenter’s apprentice out from under him. The key to job security moving forward, Herrera decided, was having a vocation that is in demand and good for the planet. “I decided to learn to do work that supports green lifestyles,” he said.

Luckily for Herrera, he qualified for paid training through Intervine, a New York program that trains low-income community members to work within green infrastructures. Over a 10-week period, he took courses including construction, site safety and solar PV installation. He also earned certifications after training.

When Herrera completed the classes via Zoom, he was awarded a paid internship with Bright Power in lower Manhattan, which works to improve building efficiency and lower building emissions for a greener planet. He hopes to get hired as a permanent employee.

“I can’t wait to become more hands-on and get out on the field,” said Herrera.

About the author

Vicky Sequeira

Vicky Sequeira

With more than 6 years of experience working as a media professional, Vicky flaunts prowess in bringing the juicy tit-bits from the entertainment industry for the readers of News Brig.

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