Handling a seasonal layoff can be stressful for affected members, who are losing a paycheck and the overall feeling of security. After layoffs, however, unions can help members find a positive outlook, explore professional development opportunities and cultivate the skills they need to enhance their potential. Here are five ways to help.
1. Promote Training
Training gives members a way to pick up in-demand expertise and keep skills fresh as technology develops. Provide a list of online training opportunities, federal retraining programs (such as ones offered by the Department of Labor) or courses that members can take through a local community college, career center or library. If you have the resources, provide training for members that pinpoints what employers in your sector or geographic area want. Because not all training is free and not all members are in a position to pay out of pocket, be prepared to advise members on their financial aid options.
2. Find Volunteer Opportunities
Highlight local volunteer opportunities. Those in the construction sector might consider groups like Habitat for Humanity. A transportation worker could drive seniors to medical appointments, or someone in the grocery industry might help at a local food bank. Not only are these opportunities a good way to keep skills sharp, but they are also resume boosters that prevent gaps in employment and demonstrate a willingness to help others.
3. Encourage Side Work
Oftentimes during a layoff, money is the priority to many members. Encourage members to seek side work or freelance gigs tied to their industry. Members laid off from construction or manufacturing jobs could assist with odd jobs around people's homes. Similarly, encourage members to keep an eye out for any part-time or contract positions available in their sector. Better yet, ask all members — employed or not — to advise the union when something opens up. Then, encourage your out-of-work members to apply.
4. Locate Apprenticeships
Depending on a member's specific sector, a seasonal layoff might be the perfect time to seek an apprenticeship, especially if they're looking to get a foot in the door with a certain employer or enhance their skills. Talk with employers about available opportunities, and advise your members on where to apply. You can also send them to the federal government's apprenticeship website, Apprenticeship.gov, to learn more about high-demand apprenticeship positions in fields like manufacturing, construction and transportation.
5. Support Resume-Building and Job Hunting
Members might be unsure of how to explain an employment gap to a potential employer. Offer a resume-building workshop or emailed guide to help them understand how to list continuing education, volunteer positions and side work on a resume, along with the skills they gained through these activities. Also keep an ear to the ground for positions as they open and alert laid-off members via email. Finally, try bringing members together periodically to network and spend time with their peers who might have an opportunity to share.
Being in a period of uncertainty and transition isn't easy. Members might feel overwhelmed and hopeless. As a union leader, help them to see opportunity and find what they need to make themselves more marketable. Encourage your members to keep up their momentum through training, volunteering or side work in order to support their mental health and career.
Heather Kerrigan started her career in journalism at Governing magazine, reporting on state and local politics and policy. Prior to co-founding River Horse Communications, Heather offered freelance editorial services to a variety of outlets, including serving as volume editor and lead author for SAGE Publications' Historic Documents series and editor-in-chief of The Kanter Journal. Heather is the author of the book, Retire Rich With Your 401(k) Plan. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from The George Washington University.