Tough economic times leads to big changes for the unemployed

Recession, layoffs, lead to more education for some
By: Amber Marra, Journal Staff Writer
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When Charles Davidson got a layoff notice from his job in education, he didn't look at it as a door closing, but rather a chance to reinvent himself.

Davidson, of Sacramento, was laid off from his job as theater manager of the Folsom Cordova Unified School District two years ago.

Around the same time his wife, Jenny, was laid off from her job of 13 years as a social worker. Rather than dwelling on their pending unemployment, the Davidsons chose to go back to school and get master's degrees.

Last month, Jenny walked at graduation at Drexel University for a master's degree in business and landed a job as program manager of PEACE for Families in Auburn. Charles completed his master's in Kindergarten through 12th grade education last September and is continuing as a full-time graduate student as he pursues a doctorate in higher education this year.

"That decision was directly a result of being laid off," Charles Davidson said. "I may not have gone on to pursue the doctorate if I had a full-time job."

Jenny said she has since landed her "dream job" with PEACE for Families. Had she not lost her last job, she might not have had time or recognized the need to go back to school and refine the skills she needed to advance her career.

"Having worked in social services I saw a lot of people not be promoted because they were social workers who lacked the business knowledge needed to make those tough decisions that nonprofits are facing today, so I got my master's in business to fill that gap in the nonprofit world," Jenny Davidson said.

Since the Recession, stories like the Davidsons' are more and more common on college and university campuses, as well as within staffing agencies.

Jason Buckingham, executive director of the Golden Sierra Workforce Investment Board, has seen an increase in the amount of clients who have extended work histories being let go from their jobs, and as a result have to either enhance their current skills or choose a new field and start from scratch.

"It's something we've dealt with. We've seen a rise in the level of skill or employment compared to those we've typically worked with," Buckingham said. "Now we're working more with people with fewer barriers, who have had a greater connection to the work force and with less sporadic work histories."

Golden Sierra, in cooperation with the California Employers Association, has also started using the Professional Edge program.

Daniela Devitt, director of outreach for the employers association, said the program is to help unemployed, experienced professionals find work, build upon the skills they already have, and even start a new business, if they so desire.

"The program was something new for the (Golden Sierra) connection centers because most of the time their regular clients were not professionals, so we're looking for a way to assist those professionals really hit hard in Placer County," Devitt said.

Sierra College has also seen a steady flow of students with the common goal of returning to school to prepare for a new career, upgrade job skills, or maintain a certificate or license.

According to the Sierra College Factbook for 2010-2011, around 4 percent of students, or 796, were taking classes to prepare for a new career. Around 3 percent, or 530 students, said they were developing the skills they need for a job and 1 percent, or 288 students, said they were renewing a certification or license.

Out of the entire student population in fall of 2010, 60 percent, or 12,229 students, were classified as "continuing" their education. Twenty percent of the total population, or 4,260 students, said they were returning to school.

The amount of students classified as "continuing" has stayed around 60 percent since 2006, but the amount of students who are returning to school has increased to 14 percent of the total population since 2006 when 12 percent of students were classified as "returning."

When the Davidsons returned to Drexel for their master's degrees, neither knew if they would land jobs as soon as they graduated, but they did know they would both finish within two years. Jenny said though the times were uncertain, she knew she had to move forward.

"Don't put it off, put your nose to the grindstone and take the gap in employment as a point when you can dive in and get it done," Jenny Davidson said.

Though Charles will continue to work toward his doctorate, he has been offered his old job at Folsom Cordova Unified School District as the theater manager, but as a part-time, nine-month position. He says that his 25 years in the arts prior to getting his master's has inadvertently led him to a passion for education, so he'll probably take his old job back.

But he's still unsure about what to do when he finishes his doctorate in 2014.

"An education in K-12 school districts is so controlled by state budgets and political factors, and I wanted to move to higher ed. where there is more opportunity and less political and social instability," Charles Davidson said. "I'm not sure if I'll be able to find that here."

Contact Amber Marra at Follow her on Twitter @Amber_AJNews.