Archive for Thursday, April 11, 2002

Support group aids laid off workers

April 11, 2002

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— Laid off information technology workers are seeking solace and job hunting help from a new support group.

Rick Kumar, a former contractor for Sprint Corp. which has shed nearly 11,000 jobs since October said he founded Inspire Inc. after meeting other jobless and discouraged information technology workers.

"A lot of these people don't have that gusto," said Kumar, whose Sprint position was eliminated Feb. 28. "They don't even have that inspiration. Very few of them have found jobs. Very few of them have gone back to work."

The group of laid-off workers meets every other week in libraries or restaurants around the Kansas City area to discuss job leads and training opportunities.

The meetings draw between 20 and 40 people, although Kumar said hundreds would attend if he had enough room. He is seeking outside funds to rent a larger space and establish Inspire Inc. as a permanent nonprofit organization that could offer help to unemployed information technology professionals.

One goal of the meetings is that workers will pass on tips about jobs for which they may not be qualified. The hope is that someone else might be a perfect fit.

Kumar said jobs exist, but are few and far between.

Workers face tremendous competition for the jobs that do come along, said Dana Rodenbaugh, assistant director of Project Refocus, a program to train dislocated workers. The program is sponsored by the U.S. Labor Department and based at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

"I even hear Sprint is hiring for specific and particular jobs," Rodenbaugh said. "But the competition is very stiff because all their colleagues are getting dumped out on the market."

Kumar said he was told that he was the 639th candidate when he applied recently for a senior project management position.

And the money for the jobs that remain isn't as lucrative as it was in the dot-com boom of the 1990s. Jobs that had paid more than $300 an hour are now paying less than $100 an hour, said Jeanette Prenger, president of Ecco Select, a supplemental staffing firm in Kansas City.

"You've got really, really good skill sets out on the market right now," Prenger said.

Kumar said some of the laid-off workers had reached a low point when he met them.

"Some of them were just hanging on," he said. "I just thought, 'Maybe I can help them."'

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