Downsizing upside: Workers report finding better jobs

by Becky Gillette

Published: August 24,1998

One of the biggest threats to secure employment in the 1990s has been downsizing. Mergers that pump up stock prices have been practically epidemic, and the huge companies that have resulted usually end up showing a number of long-term employees out the door.

But while losing your job is listed as one of the most stressful of life`s events, a surprising number of people who have been downsized say they ended up in job they like better, according to a recent nationwide survey by Interim Services Inc. The survey shows that about half of the adults who lost a job due to downsizing report being happier in their present job than the position they held prior to downsizing. Another 33% said there are just as happy as in their previous job.

“The results were interesting,” said Christy Strawbridge, owner of Interim Personnel in Gulfport, a business franchise of Interim Services. “I think as adults who have had the comfort level of an eight-to-five job for so many years, the mention of downsizing scares a lot of us. But once we are faced with that issue, we are able to look at some other options. A lot of people are able to do things never thought could do. They get to try something new.”

The current low unemployment rates benefit people who are looking for a new job. Mississippi is experiencing one of the lowest unemployment levels in history.

“It is an employee`s market,” Strawbridge said. “Here on the Gulf Coast I`m experiencing that as a business owner. We have more work than we have applicants to fill the positions. I`m talking about in my office alone, I can not find enough workers.”

The state of Mississippi has training programs available through the Mississippi Employment Security Commission office to provide help for people whose jobs have been eliminated. Curt Thompson, chief administrator for the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA), said 1,200 to 1,500 residents per year take advantage of retraining after finding themselves out of a job.

“A common thing we see is that people`s education levels need to be upgraded,” Thompson said. “For example, it used to be acceptable in the job market to not have a high school degree. Now it is less acceptable. Many people need to go back for training to get their skills up to an acceptable level.”

A similar program under the Trade Act is geared to helping employees whose companies are closing to move their operations out of the country. This program pays for affected employees to go back to school for two years. JTPA pays for up to a year of training although the training doesn`t always take that long.

Thompson said he wasn`t surprised at the survey results that show many workers who have been downsized end up in jobs they like better.

“A lot of people seize the opportunity to do something different,” Thompson said. “They have had the same job for years, and it gives them a great opportunity-with a little help from government- to get an education and extend their skills. The majority of people in JTPA program go to a vocational technical program. A lot of them go into health occupations because there is such a tremendous demand for that.”

Thompson said most people don`t require a lot of retraining. A semester or two in college can make a big difference. Besides training available at community colleges, private schools are also used. For example, a number of JTPA participants opt to take a six- to eight-week training course in order to get a commercial truck driving license.

It isn`t known for certain how many people in Mississippi have been downsized in recent years. Nationwide an estimated 900,000 employees were downsized in 1997. The Interim Personnel report “The Upside of Downsizing” said most of those downsizing “victims” would not trade their new job for the old ones.

“If this sounds different from what you`ve read in the past, you`re not alone,” the report said. “Most people have seen countless reports of corporate downsizing and the employee stress that accompanies it. But what has not been reported is the state of American workers after `surviving` a downsizing.”

The following are some conclusions from the report:

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