A battalion of job seekers descends every Monday morning on LDS Business College in Salt Lake City. They don dark-colored business attire; most are middle-aged; gray hairs in their midst are not an uncommon sight.
These unemployed professionals come to the college for the weekly meeting of the Salt Lake Professional Program, an event put on by LDS Employment Resource Services in conjunction with LDS Business College. It's aimed at teaching out-of-work professionals how to find suitable work.
"Looking for a job is definitely a different set of skills than whatever you do in your normal job," said Chad Clarke, an engineering designer from Layton, Utah, who recently attended the Salt Lake Professional Program for the first time. "I'm learning those skills. The engineering background I come from is more technical, so I need to learn better communication skills and interviewing techniques."
Substantively, the Salt Lake Professional Program is essentially the same as the other 70 Professional Placement Programs operated globally by LDS Employment Resource Services: Attendees network with each other while receiving helpful instruction on how to hone their job-search skills (see sidebar article on page 15). All of the professional programs run by ERS are intended to be complements, not substitutes, for the work being done on a more local level at the 331 Employment Centers that the Church has around the world.
However, the Salt Lake Professional Program differs from its sister programs in two significant ways. First of all, with more than 125 people in attendance every week, it's the largest ERS professional program anywhere. Second, the partnership between ERS and LDS Business College is a one-of-a-kind union that translates into greater efficiency for both organizations.
With such a large number of job seekers present, sheer logistics dictate that participants break off into groups of five to 10 people for activities such as creating a r?um?to fit a hypothetical job description. The encouragement and feedback the attendees give each other in those small group settings can prove priceless.
"In the beginning, you cannot believe there are so many people looking for a job at this moment," said Jorge Riveras, a marketing sales professional from Salt Lake City. "It kind of makes you feel a little bit intimidated, but after you see the strength and the enthusiasm they have, it changes everything and then you become very positive. You may have felt down in the beginning, but eventually all the strength you have around you, the really well-prepared people, they start listening to you and they help you get better."
The partnership between ERS and LDS Business College was forged in 2007. ERS subsequently moved its Salt Lake City workshops and programs from Welfare Square to the college's new dowtown Triad Center campus.
"Because of where (the college) is, people can get to it relatively easily," said ERS manager Ballard S. Veater. "They can see that they're not alone and have a much larger base. We're able to invite guest speakers to come. We invite employers to come (there) as well."
By having Employment Resource Services on campus every week, LDS Business College secured access for its students to learn and prepare for the time when they will enter the workforce by attending the ERS programs and workshops.
"It makes sense for us to correlate our efforts this way," said Steven L. Asay, director of the college's career services programs. "By blending part of the two programs together, we can prepare students for lifetime employment, not just for after graduation."
'Professional program' is global
When professional or white-collar workers unexpectedly find themselves without a job, LDS Employment Resource Services has an infrastructure in place to help.
ERS operates 313 employment centers, including 110 in the United States and Canada. The employment centers offer the Career Workshop, a 12-hour course designed to help people develop the skills they need to achieve their career objectives. The workshop is predicated upon teaching specific skills such as r?um?building, power statements and networking.
While the Career Workshop is adaptable to the needs of all job seekers, professionals may use it as a stepping stone to the Professional Placement Program that ERS offers in 79 locations globally.
"There's a lot more to the Professional Placement Program than just the Career Workshop," said Keith Barnett, a regional manager for ERS in Orange County, Calif. "In the professional program, we have professional networking groups, we have career workshops, we have job fairs. It's an ongoing process."
According to Brother Barnett, displaced professionals can profit greatly by learning effective networking techniques.
"According to the research, 72 to 80 percent of all jobs are filled via networking," he said. "In its simplest form, networking is defined as just talking to people, getting out there and creating a network of folks you can contact."
Kenneth Kroeber is a facilities manager from Sandy, Utah. Unemployed for several months, he attends the Salt Lake Professional Program operated by ERS. Before he was laid off, Brother Kroeber had no idea how to network; now, he hopes it will be the means for finding his next job.
"This is the first time I've had to really work at finding a job," he said. "The last job I had, I planned to be at it forever. What (the Professional Placement Program) has done is I come here and now I take a different approach to how I value people that I know.
"The positions I'm looking for generally don't get posted. I need to find somebody that knows somebody that might know somebody else that's looking for someone. That's the process and you learn that, but it's a hard thing to learn."
If Brother Kroeber and his fellow job seekers successfully apply the concepts taught in the Professional Placement Program, on average they can expect the length of their employment search to almost be cut in half.
"The statistics for the efficacy of the Professional Placement Program," Brother Barnett said, "are that when you go through the program and the Career Workshop and you implement the procedures and the practices that are outlined in detail there, you decrease your job search time by 40 percent. That's a pretty powerful number."