Career training courtesy of the NY Department of Labor

Last week a letter arrived from the NY Department of Labor. Despite my advice to open anything from them immediately, that letter sat in a pile of unopened mail until Sunday night, when I finally got around to it. Really, my hand was starting to cramp up from playing Pathwords, and I was feeling a little guilty for slacking on my job search over Thanksgiving. Lucky for me I opened it when I did.

The NY Department of Labor was requesting (read “requiring”) that I attend career training. Failure to do so would lead to a loss of unemployment benefits. Though not an idle threat – they docked a friend of mine once – I had never before been summoned. So this morning at 9:00 a.m. I found myself in a desk, in a classroom, in a nondescript office building, in Flushing, Queens.

Let’s wind this back a little, so you can get the full effect. Because all you people who have jobs kind of wish you didn’t sometimes (don’t lie to me, I’ve been there too).

I was the only person on the platform for the outbound 7 train at around 8:30. The inbound platform filled up with commuters. It was kind of weird and depressing to be heading the other direction; the metaphor wasn’t lost on me either.

Downtown Flushing is like downtown Seoul, possibly with more hustle and bustle. But the block where the Department of Labor lives was empty of pedestrians. A few loading dock workers lingered about, and 50 or so people had lined up at the entrance. I flashed to those pictures of breadlines during The Great Depression, obviously an overreaction. But it turned out the Social Security Administration is right next door and everyone was going there.

Inside the Department of Labor office looks like government offices often do – fluorescent lights, drop ceilings, sterile floors, metal and plastic furniture. People waited in rows of chairs for their turn at the counter. Guards sat at foldout tables watching over things. Beyond the counter, cubicles abounded.

I was directed down the hall to room 2, where I filled out a simple form asking my employment preferences. I gave that to the service rep along with my resume and the longer form mailed to me previously and waited for the festivities to start.

As I sat there, slides in a loop projected job search tips on the front wall. The classroom filled up with other unemployed people. There was a wide range of ethnicities, this being New York City (and Queens, in particular). Ages seemed to range from recent high school graduate to senior citizen, class from working to middle. Some were on edge, like the single mother of three next to me recently laid off from a bank. Some were bored, like the young woman in the corner who slept through it all. On the whole, everyone seemed pretty average, pretty normal.

At 9:15, a service rep who looked like a humorless and younger Mel Brooks handed out a packet of job search materials. Pages in the packet – blurry, misaligned and stapled in the wrong corner – outlined the following:

  • Job search websites
  • Basic skills workshops (resume writing, intro to computers, how to look for a job)
  • (career management website)
  • Tips for re-entering the workforce
  • Workforce 1 career center locations (a city government initiative, I suspect)

Then Mel turned off the lights and reviewed the materials using another Powerpoint projected on the front wall. He recommended that we visit and pick up a copy of What Color Is Your Parachute? He also harped on WinWay Resume Deluxe as better than Word for creating a resume (really?… really?). The internet connection was really slow, which made the presentation drag. And the other service rep conducted individual conversations in his regular talking voice, making it difficult to hear.

By 9:50 – 35 minutes later – I was on my way back to the train, having preserved my unemployment benefits but learned nothing. The info was probably useful to some people there. And a young, black, female war veteran spoke highly of and, which I will give another chance at some point. Either one of those could lead to something, I suppose. And I did learn that NY’s Unemployment Office has 130 people to handle up to 160,000 calls per week (no wonder no one can get through).

The problem is that the seminar has to teach to the inexperienced on a basic level. And I just have too much experience looking for work – for better or worse. I don’t mean to suggest that I’m good at it; given my track record for layoffs, I should be better. I just do it a lot. I’d much rather just be working.

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  1. Nicole Sauce wrote:

    Maybe your should create a jobsearch seminar and start training folkshow to find jobs…

    Thursday, December 11, 2008 at 6:11 pm | Permalink
  2. Alan wrote:

    I was at the same unemployment place. I had a counselor who was 79 years old! Nice lady. It was comforting in a bizzaro world kind of way to see all those people in the same boat. I found it kind of funny when I volunteered that I was laid off after 19 years on the job..and a woman had to out do me by saying she was let go after 30 years!

    Monday, January 5, 2009 at 6:11 pm | Permalink
  3. Norm wrote:

    Yeah, I can’t compete for longevity. But I’m going for the record in number of times. I found all the other laid-off people comforting too, though I felt bad for them. Some just seemed kind of shell-shocked. I also found this weirdly comforting. They just had no idea how to look for a job in this day and age. With all my experience, I could just jump right into my job search.

    Monday, January 5, 2009 at 6:27 pm | Permalink
  4. Anonymous wrote:

    I share a similar experience; I know exactly what you are talking about. I will print it out and read it all over again tomorrow. It’s too overwhelming for me now.

    Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 3:32 am | Permalink
  5. M. L. wrote:

    Um, yeh, so I just received one of these letters in the mail. The note “this session may last up to 2 hours” nearly gave me a heart attack. Glad to hear it’s pretty innocuous. If it means holding onto my benefits, I’ll jump through the bureaucratic hurdles.

    Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 11:46 am | Permalink
  6. Norm wrote:

    Yeah, do it to keep the money coming in. Any pain it causes will be short-lived. And maybe you’ll learn something new, or at least be reminded of something.

    Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 2:04 pm | Permalink