The lessons are sometimes unsettling in Tim Hanson's Job Seeking Skills classes.
At Southside Homes, he assures the 19 students in a program called Job University that life isn't fair. He tells classes at Central Piedmont Community College that only one in four people love their jobs.
The most unsettling message might be this one: “I tell my students there's a good chance that they're going to need all of these notes again in another three to five years,” Hanson said.
In a climate of stalled economic growth and corporate downsizing, jobs and job security can seem more elusive than ever.
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Hanson spends his days teaching to job seekers the tactics for navigating in uncertain times and increasing their chances for finding jobs they can feel excited about.
He focuses on basic skills – speaking clearly, selling your strengths, and being prepared and excited during job interviews.
He also wants to help students become more resilient. Sometimes that means facing the facts.
“There can be great happiness if folks can overcome the fear of change,” said Hanson.
Hanson has taught four classes of 26 or 30 students this year at CPCC, his home base. That's an increase over last year of six to 10 students per class.
Since October, he's also been teaching at Job University. The Stratford-Richardson YMCA's Community Roundtable created the free program for residents who live along the West Boulevard corridor. CPCC and seven other community partners offer services.
“You don't have employment programs on the West Boulevard corridor,” said Robin Jones, Job University coordinator. “It's a winning situation for the organizations involved and residents who are coming to these classes.”
These students are perhaps most in need of the resiliency that Hanson preaches.
Unemployment is high in the communities that compose the West Boulevard corridor, according to Charlotte's 2008 Neighborhood Quality of Life Study. What they have in common with Hanson's other students is that they often are trying to manage loss of self-esteem and hope.
“It crosses a lot of boundaries,” Hanson said. “I see everybody from those who would rejoice at making $11 per hour to those who tip that much at a meal.”
People too often confine themselves to a lateral job search. That isn't always practical, Hanson said.
With unemployment at 6.6 percent in September, the market in North Carolina is competitive, said Antwon Keith, manager for the Employment Security Commission in Charlotte. A year ago, the state's unemployment rate was 4.4 percent. Ten years ago, it was 3 percent.
“It was an employees' job market in the '90s,” Keith said. “Now it's an employers' job market. It's a lot more difficult to get in the door.”
Mary Spann worked as a loan specialist for 30 years at Bank of America. The Wilmore resident's job was phased out two years ago when the operation moved to St. Louis, she said.
At Job University, Hanson encourages Spann to look for work that is meaningful.
“I was just looking in the field of banking,” said Spann, 53. “They have really been helping me fit my skills in other places.
“I was just limiting myself to what I had been doing and not exposing myself to opportunities that might take me in a different direction. They were giving me insight.”
Career transitions are an appropriate time to ask what is most important and what contributions the job seeker would most like to make in life.
“Burdens make us better,” Hanson said. “It's tough to believe while it's happening. Ultimately it helps us define our purpose.”