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Rutgers workforce expert, Carl Van Horn, shares resources and guidance for those recently unemployed or facing layoffs

The COVID-19 global pandemic has left a record-number 22 million people – including over 700,000 within New Jersey – without jobs, wondering what the new normal will be when it comes to the economy and job-seeking in the future.

Carl Van Horn, Distinguished Professor of Public Policy and the founding director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers’ Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, and a senior adviser to Gov. Phil Murphy, talks about the current labor market and offers advice to those recently unemployed or facing layoffs.

What is the current climate of the economy?

Our nation is experiencing an unprecedented, public health emergency-induced economic shutdown. While we have never seen anything like this, we must learn and adapt to the new realities. There will be a lengthy recovery period that will change the labor market indefinitely. Flexibility is necessary as telecommuting broadens and roles that require in-person work change. Even now, the definition of what “has to” be done in person has already been transformed.

What are some steps job seekers should take?

First, learn about and apply for the benefits that you are entitled to receive. It can seem daunting, but we know from experience that many people who are eligible for assistance do not take advantage of these programs. Seek information and help directly from federal, state and local government agencies and trusted organizations. Be wary of emails or phone calls from anyone promising to help you get government benefits more quickly. Unfortunately, crises often spur fraudulent attempts to exploit people in vulnerable situations.

During the period of unemployment, it is wise to enroll in free or low-cost, short-term training programs, such as those offered from top universities, including Rutgers. These are positive ways to help people keep their skills up to date, add new ones and improve their chances of returning to work as the economy recovers.

When looking for a new job, it may be advisable to accept offers even if the job pays less than your previous position. Research has demonstrated that a stigma is attached to people when they are unemployed for long period of time. Getting back to work, even on a part-time basis or in a job different from your full-time occupation, demonstrates to potential employers that you are productive and staying active.

Continue networking virtually with people who could potentially help you find the next job and join online professional groups to expand your search.

What about those fortunate enough to still be employed?

Now is a good time to "retrain" or "upskill" by gaining further technology skills and industry knowledge. If your organization’s staff is reduced, you may be expected to take on additional responsibilities. It is never good to be complacent, especially now, and you need to be prepared for new challenges at work.

If you are considering moving to another firm or organization now may not be the best time. If you believe your current position is stable, consider putting the job search on hold. If you take another job, you could lose your new job if the company follows a "last in, first out" policy.

What are some of the resources the Heldrich Center is providing?

The Heldrich Center has extensive experience from our work during and after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the Great Recession, and Superstorm Sandy. We have a deep understanding of the programs and strategies that can help people cope with and recover from economic disasters. For the past several years, we have provided free services to thousands of long-term unemployed older workers through the New Start Career Network (NSCN).

In response to the pandemic, we have made free resources available from NSCN to unemployed workers, regardless of age. This includes dozens of webinars on coping with unemployment, getting help, looking for jobs and an extensive resource guide. We are sending a weekly email with tips for opportunities, job-seeking techniques and information about unemployment for those on the listserv. NSCN also hosts a weekly, virtual share and support group for the unemployed led by seasoned career coaches.

We are working closely with the State of New Jersey, the Federal Reserve Bank system and national nonprofits to develop strategies for managing widespread unemployment and its devastating consequences; and advising government and nonprofit organizations on best practices for delivering virtual job services. 

Can we draw upon parallels from our past as we look to the future?

One of the important points about any crisis is that it teaches lessons for the next one. In the past, some have assumed these economic recessions were just going to be a "moment in time" and that the economy would return to the way it was before. That was not true after the Great Recession a decade ago and it will not be true after the COVID-19 pandemic.

For more information about the New Start Career Network, visit: www.newstartcareernetwork.org.