The Re-employment Eligibility Appointment

Early last month, I received a notice from the Dept. of Labor requiring me to attend a re-employment meeting as a requisite of remaining eligible for unemployment benefits.  At first I thought it was an individual appointment, but in fact it was a group orientation to the process, and I was just late being scheduled for it.

I had mixed feeling about this, being generally uncomfortable with the whole unemployment process.  It didn’t help that I was not familiar with the government building where the meeting would take place.  I reassured myself that this was all part of the new experience, as I am trying hard to look at my situation from multiple perspectives.  I collected the required materials (resume, photo ID), looked up the place on the internet, and made sure I had time to park and find the place.  In fact, I got there so early that I sat in the car in the parking lot for a few minutes, looking at my materials and gathering my thoughts.

In the office building that houses various local and state government agencies, the re-employment area was clean and business-like.  It was not particularly inviting – no couches, coffee makers, or inspirational posters – but it did have lots of computers and work areas.  I gave my name to the no-nonsense woman behind the desk and was told to have a seat.  There being no seats available, because of the other people there for the meeting, I stood and awkwardly perused a board of job postings, noting that they were up to date.  People weren’t chatting or interacting, no exchanging of stories, not even banal comments about the weather.  Eye contact was at a minimum.

When the time came, we crowded into a hot, stuffy conference room.  It was actually two small rooms combined, with two U-shaped tables facing a screen, and folders and pens set out at each place.  Looking around, I felt overdressed in my cords, turtleneck, and Nordic sweater.  I would have fit in better with jeans and an old sweatshirt.

The group had 12 men and 5 women in it.  Three were grizzled older men in flannel shirts and work boots, three were young men, one of whom looked like he should have been in high school.  Most of the group seemed to be in their 30’s or 40’s.  During the course of the session, bits of personal information slipped out.  One woman, with short white hair and an organized manner, had been laid off after 52 years at a power company, when the management changed.  One of the older men had been a truck driver for 35 years, stopped when his eyesight was going, and then worked 6 weeks in an automotive parts store before being laid off.  The woman sitting next to me, trim and neat, kept saying that she was sure she had a job; she had just had an interview and was expecting the confirmation any day.  One of the younger guys was mouthing off to the presenter, as I’ve seen students test high school teachers.  The presenter just told him that it was his choice to be here.  (What was unspoken was that if he left his benefits were in jeopardy.)  He stayed.

Before I came, I joked that I probably could be running the meeting myself, given my background.  However, I was pleasantly impressed by the organization of material and information.  Although much was repetitive if you’d read the information booklet we were all sent, the presentation was focused and practical, with slides and handouts.  I took notes, one of only three people to write anything down, jotting down useful points.  I also noted the printed resources in the folder, such as “Career and Education Internet Sites” and “How to Use Transferable Skills” and “Vermont Short Term Employment Projections.”  The meeting ended with an internet homework assignment to be printed out for individual meetings with the re-employment counselor.

From a systems perspective, I liked the repeated emphasis on re-employment.  The focus of the organization is on getting people jobs, and they said again and again that the job counselors and required activities are there to help in this process.  They urged the group to use the job center’s computers, photocopiers, and telephones for job searching.  They will even mail applications for job seekers.  It’s not warm and fuzzy, and I would hesitate to say anything personal to the woman behind the desk,  but the overall message is supportive not punitive.

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