The Economy Project
1:36 pm
Fri January 29, 2010

Job Clubs: For the Unemployed and By the Unemployed

Overland Park, Kansas – This story aired as part of a series we've been doing on the local economy. Johnson County, Kansas has some of the fastest growing and affluent cities in the country. Thousands of layoffs at local corporations like Sprint/Nextel and smaller technology companies have created unemployment Johnson County isn't accustomed to.

Nearly 50 percent more workers in Johnson County are without jobs today compared to this time last year. The increase in unemployment is still well below the national average and lower than that of neighboring Wyandotte County.

But Johnson Countians are nervous. The work force is highly skilled and typically commands relatively high wages. People are accustomed to job security.

In these tough economic times, what's happening now is that the unemployed are coming together to help each other out by depending on "job clubs."

Job clubs have grown in number over the last year. Each club has a slightly different focus. At Prince of Peach Catholic Church in Olathe, Kansas, small groups do mock interviews for one another. They can be taped and downloaded for later review. Coaches give tips on narrowing a job search.

"What do you want to do if you could strip, define that dream job?" asks one coach. "At this point I'd be interested in finding a similar job in middle to large size company in systems analysts work," replies a club member.

Coaches also help find or the best way to market your skills.

At job clubs, some people use their names. Other wanted to remain anonymous.

"Been kind of difficult at the point where I'd do almost anything," said one club member. "Been looking for over a year now. Award winning writer and editor, 10 years experience in IT, looking to bring two main skill sets together with on line media company."

The job club is a safe place to open up and share.

"I'd like to get back with Embarq," said Phillip Morgan. "But my layoff pretty fresh, within last week, haven't really had much time to process yet"

Morgan described himself as a veteran job seeker and shared how important social networking sites have been, websites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Fred Fosnacht, a former consultant- turned -minister created this job club several years ago.

"I'm a recovering WorldCom employee," Fosnacht said. "So I want to assure you, there is life after Sprint. Get yourself a business card, and there's many job clubs. You ought to join one or two. Good things to remember. People find people jobs. If they're in your address book, they're important enough to know you're in transition."

Fosnacht's job club sputtered along with a handful of members until last fall. As unemployment grew, so did the group, from 15 to 45 to as many as 60 members by springtime.

"Because when you're in transition, it's a very important time emotionally and spiritually," says Fosnacht. "You find out you're not in control. You find out your best laid plan has failed and someone else's sloppy plan has succeeded just because of who they reported to."

Many churches in Johnson County, and in fact the wider Metro, are sponsoring job clubs, as well as community centers and colleges. One of the largest clubs is at Johnson County Community College. Weekly meetings outgrew the space and the college recently added another session.

It is striking that as people pass business cards, they share contacts and job leads.

These job clubs are for so much more than just information. Young and old, male and female, executives and secretaries, are equalized by frustration, anxiety, sometimes even grief. Sandy Culig lost a close knit community at her work with an area nonprofit organization.

"It can be sad," she said. "The important thing is not be concerned about saying 'Hey I'm not working,' and just lay it out there because you never know what's going to come from that."

There's a possibility the concentrated layoffs of high skilled workers like those in Johnson County could create what economists call an entrepreneurial rebound. That's where discouraged job seekers combine skills and start their own companies. It may be at these spirit of cooperation at job clubs might help create the foundation of new economic growth in the community.