99 Weeks of …. Insanity

The New York Times just ran a cover story called “Long-Term Jobless Regroup to Fight the Odds,” looking at how a group of employment-seeking professionals in California, have been gathering weekly in a group called Experience Unlimited to stay motivated to apply for jobs.

The article discusses the ego-battering the folks in the group have suffered in sending out resumes and getting rejected. One man estimates he sent out around 1,600 resumes since he lost his accounting job.

Their situation is pretty desperate. Some folks have seen their unemployment run out or are about to lose it.

The story notes how, recently, the human resources manager of a big home improvement chain came to encourage these former accountants, marketers and other seasoned professionals to apply for roughly $12-an-hour jobs on the sales floor.

Is this what it’s come to?

These highly-qualified folks don’t belong in an entry level job selling plywood and bird feeders. They’re serious professionals, who are committed to finding work and motivated enough to show up to this group week after week.

Why aren’t programs for the jobless helping them to cash in on their skills through self-employment? Why can’t these programs break out of the mindset that for legions of people, getting a traditional, well-paying job with benefits is the only viable route to reentering the work force?

While unemployment programs do offer some help to those who want to start a business, it can take a lot of research to find out about such programs. Many people don’t even know they exist. The jobless persist in fruitless activities like sending out resume after resume, because they don’t really know any other way out of their predicament. Self-employment is a big unknown, so they don’t consider it. It’s hard to gather specifics, like what healthcare coverage will cost on the open market.

The professions of the people mentioned in this article–who also included engineers, teachers, social workers and purchasing managers–all involve skills that can be sold on a freelance or consulting basis. For instance, teachers can become tutors. In fact, the Times just wrote about tutors to children of the wealthy who earn $300 an hour. Why aren’t options like these being promoted?

It takes a lot of discipline and can-do spirit to send out 1,600 resumes. Imagine if that energy were directed to where the opportunities really are for seasoned professionals in many fields: in freelance, consulting and contingent work?

Many people earn six-figure incomes and beyond in freelancing and self-employment, and it’s possible for them to pay for healthcare out of their earnings. There’s no age penalty in freelancing, as there is in corporate America.

We’re here to offer an alternative to the rut of unemployment. If you don’t have a job but have valuable skills, you don’t have to wait for a boss to finally spot your talent. You can start freelancing today. It’s better for your self-esteem than being on unemployment. It can lead to valuable contacts and possibly a job, if that’s what you want in the long run. And we’re here to tell you that you can make as much as you did in your corporate career if you apply the same energy and discipline to it.

It’s sheer craziness for our employment system to leave highly capable people suffering on the sidelines for years when they have so much to contribute–simply because self-employment is treated like a second-class option or ignored outright.

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