WIP Maria Heidkamp

Emotional support should be a part of all workforce systems, particularly for older job seekers

A conversation with Maria Heidkamp, director of program development and a senior researcher, Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University

In this episode of Work in Progress, my guest is Maria Heidkamp, director of program development and a senior research the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University.

Long-term unemployment continues to be a long-term problem for the nation’s oldest job seekers. In June, more than a quarter of job seekers over the age of 55 were out of work for more than 27 weeks, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Job seekers aged 16 to 54 make up just only 19.1% of the long-term unemployed.

“One thing we know about long-term unemployment is that it can just wreak havoc on older workers’ motivation, their confidence, their self-esteem. Stress due to long-term unemployment can really interfere with people’s motivation and also their executive functioning. Those are the very kinds of skills people need to undertake a successful job search,” explains Heidkamp.

Heidkamp led the Center’s effort to design and implement the New Start Career Network, which has served over 6,000 long-term unemployed older job seekers since opening in 2015. The free program helped midcareer workers navigate the changing job market through online tools, job fairs, community partnerships, and career coaches.

“I would consider our most innovative component (the) access to personalized coaching provided by trained volunteers. The coaches were not just talking about how to fix a resume or how to have a better LinkedIn presence. Those were important, but the coaches really were there to help with accountability and motivation and rebuilding their confidence. The empathy and compassion that the coaches shared with the job seekers was huge,” she says.

Many of the coaches themselves either knew people who had been long-term unemployed or themselves had gone through a stretch of long-term unemployment. The coaches helped the job seekers process their stress through a number of ways, improving their overall emotional wellbeing.

“That could be as simple as taking a walk in nature or finding a project to work on where you maybe achieve some level of success. It may not be as a new job, but there might be something you’ve done that you can feel good about.

“Some of the coaches specialized in helping provide structure and accountability, which some job seekers wanted, and maybe others were good with how to think about making some kind of career transition, so we also had coaches that provided different kinds and levels of support depending on what some of the job seekers needed.”

Now after seven years, the program is shutting down. “We hope that the lessons we learned can help others supporting this population across the public workforce system,” says Heidkamp.

“It is critical to provide emotional support to all job seekers, but in particular, to long-term unemployed job seekers. I think it was great for us to learn how wonderful volunteers can be. We had people we recruited through Rutgers’ alumni associations, through the Governor’s Office of Volunteerism, through United Way, or AARP, and others.

“Some of them were professional coaches who just liked the idea of donating some time to help others were aspiring coaches who were working toward getting their coaching certification and wanted to use this as a way to foster their skills. But others had no coaching background whatsoever.

“It was just a wonderful thing. We’ve got to find ways to build that into public workforce system programs, as well as the programs of community-based organizations.”

You can read the final report on the program from the Heldrich Center here.

Early in the program, WorkingNation profiled one of the midcareer job seekers helped by the New Start Career Network, Joe Konopka. Heidkamp tells us she recently ran into him and he continues to thrive in the job he got after the personalized counseling.

When Finding Your Job Is the Job | WorkingNation

A Rutgers University program catering to older long-term unemployed workers is helping them find new jobs.Full Story: http://bit.ly/FindingYourJobThis story …

Episode 238: Maria Heidkamp, director of program development, Heldrich Center, Rutgers University
Host & Executive Producer: Ramona Schindelheim, Editor-in-Chief, WorkingNation
Producer: Larry Buhl
Executive Producers: Joan Lynch and Melissa Panzer
Theme Music: Composed by Lee Rosevere and licensed under CC by 4.0
Download the transcript for this podcast here.
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