Monday, January 14

Jumping Through Hoops

Since November I have made it my business to be familiar with the museum education job market in L.A. and apply for any jobs that match my qualifications. I put this time into research and applications, not only because it is a requirement of unemployment, but because a) I want keep current with the job market and be fully aware of what is out there, b) gaining experience and practice at navigating online resources and writing cover letters are always good skills to hone and sharpen, and c) while I am enjoying the blessing of this time I am able to see my son and grow and change everyday, when that next great opportunity surfaces I want to be ready to snatch it up and run with it. (There is already a part-time gig I am pursuing that I hope to be able to say more about in the near future.)

Given my diligence, you can imagine the dismay and annoyance I felt when I received a (rather threatening) letter from the state telling me I had been "selected" to attend a four hour employment workshop. The selections are made through the system based on profiles that meet a specific criteria, so it is not intended to be personal, but it sure feels like it. So, like the good student that I am, I reviewed the materials, arranged for a babysitter, and showed up at the appointed time and place last Friday morning.

Kent Twitchell, “Six Los Angeles Artists,” 1979 --
Mural at the Employment Development Department, TorranceCA
I have never had cause to enter an employment office (they prefer to call it a "career center") before, but I quickly figured out it's not a very cheerful place. First of all, the office staff are harried and impatient and are used to dealing with people who are rude, confused, frustrated, anxious, or all of the above, and they not very nice. Add to that atmosphere people summoned to a workshop like I was, and you have a lobby full of irritable people who feel like they are being called to the principal's office for no offense save being recently laid off by their employers. Sure, I wasn't thrilled to be there so early on a Friday morning for an extended session, but I had some coffee, a bottle of water, some snacks, and no one was constantly demanding anything from me. It was the first morning in over four months I was able to sip my coffee in peace. What mother of young children can't appreciate such a rare occurrence? 

Clearly, the other twenty-some people in the workshop with me were not looking for the silver lining in the situation. We were led in to a small, cramped conference room, and as people squeezed into chairs that were too close together, the body language was unmistakable. Most people sat with their arms folded, radiating annoyance that was compounded by the fact that the room allowed for little personal space. One woman planted her purse in the chair next to her as things got started, then refused--loudly--to remove it so an elderly woman who came in late could sit in it. This led to what must have been at least a five minute verbal scuffle, as the workshop leader tried to resolve the situation so she could get things going. She never moved her purse from the chair. It was shameful to see such behavior from a grown woman.

When the workshop at last kicked off, it was mostly of what I expected. That is, the tone was patronizing and the information was remedial. Listening to the workshop leader and watching the videos, you would think the session was designed as an orientation for a job-seeking Martian arriving on Earth for the first time. I did learn a few things, however. For instance, I learned I was selected because they target M.A.'s and Ph.D.'s because they consider highly educated people harder to employ (i.e. over-qualification). The irony of that fact is that the workshop information was so basic as to be useless for anyone with a graduate degree or doctorate. No one who has earned an advanced degree needs to be told how to write a resume or how to dress for and behave on an interview. The whole thing was clearly designed with those with little to no education, which is also a targeted demographic--and the larger one, I'm sure. During the online tutorial in the computer lab--if you can call four computers for twenty-five people a "lab"--the woman running the workshop implicitly acknowledged this point when she recruited me to help her facilitate the session ("Hey educator, go help that group"). I spent most of the computer lab time helping others learn how to navigate the CalJobs website and use the various search tools to find the types of jobs that suited their qualifications.

Even though the workshop was not helpful for someone like me, the experience did offer up a couple of memorable moments which you may find funny or sad, depending on how you look at them: 

Job services rep: "What was your job title?"
Me: "Museum educator."
Job services rep: "Pick another one. How about customer service representative?"

Fellow workshop attendee: "Oh, you work in museums?"
Me: "Yes."
Fellow workshop attendee: "Have you tried the Getty?"

Those two exchanges pretty much sum up the whole experience for me. It was definitely a long four hours. 

No comments:

Post a Comment