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March 17, 2003

Unemployed Professionals, Unite!

I would like to announce that I hereby found the Coalition of the Unemployed Professional. As its founding, and thus far only member, I would like to invite other unemployed professionals and the community at large to read on, and see what I would like to accomplish with CUP.

I think the first act of this group should be to find a better name. I had considered "Coalition of the Involuntarily Unemployed Professional", but with the initials of C-I-U-P, that comes way too close to I-C-U-P. Insert teenage twittering and giggles here. Unfortunately CUP isn't much better, as the initials C-U-P are just as funny, in a juvenile kind of sense. Alliance, League, Association, Union, Federation... there's got to be a better word out there. According to their definitions in the Gage Canadian dictionary, Alliance and Association are both good choices, with League possibly being a hair better. Federation and Union both imply distinct groups coming together to form a body, which is probably not as accurate. Although one could consider each profession and its members a separate body, that seems contrary to the interests that I see this group promoting. Once I get the first ten members or so we'll decide whether we'll be AUP (and which one of those) or LUP.

You're probably wondering exactly what has possessed me to start such a group. Dedicated NFT readers will know that I've been battling unemployment for a very long time, and I'm quite sick of it. Throughout my unemployment I have come across an unusual number of professionals - mostly in my field, of course - that are likewise unemployed. All have degrees from well-known accredited institutions, all have valid work experience, and some even have multiple degrees. Why are these people unemployed? I suspect an as-yet unknown or unnamed economic force, but whatever it is, it is likely beyond the control of any one person looking for work.

Informally I have helped these fellow jobseekers in their search, as they have assisted in mine. We know each other's story, approximately what they are looking for, and are as sympathetic and as helpful as possible to each other. It has worked fairly well: one former colleague of mine finally found employment, and many excellent leads have been passed along to myself. If it works well on such a small, informal scale, I'm almost giddy at the potential for what could happen should it be organized on a regional, provincial, or even national level. Imagine professionals across the country checking up on who's looking for what, and submitting any leads they know to those that need it. It could be phenomenal! (It could also be a mess, but I'd rather be optimistic to start out.)

Of course, it would lack the personal touch. With my personal dealings with my former colleagues, friends, and fellow alumni, they are more willing to go the extra mile and present my résumé to someone who does not know me, and offer a strong personal recommendation as they see fit. That would be extremely hard to maintain across the board in a large organization, but it certainly won't go away. If you know a job seeker personally, you will obviously be able to provide a personal reference. If you don't, well, you simply let them know what positions you know about, and leave the rest up to them. It's all about sharing information, not creating a new Old Boy's Club that will get you hired with a wink and a handshake.

I suppose it would be helpful to create a mission statement, or vision statement, or even go so far as to write a charter for what this group hopes to accomplish. Key points would be along the lines of:

  1. to support unemployed professionals that are actively seeking work in their field, especially those that have been unemployed f or a long period of time
  2. to share information on job and career possibilities and opportunities
  3. to not compete with recruiting or headhunting agencies, but to complement their candidate search process by referring members that match their criteria to them
  4. understanding that this is not an organization that offers financial support
  5. to act as an information repository to assist the professional jobseeker:
    • job search tips
    • state of the industry
    • professional skills shortages and surpluses
    • job and career fairs
  6. to co-ordinate activities to increase the profile of its members to industry and the community at large
It would be a document in progress, and flexible enough to be informative, but not prevent assisting members in their job search. Or maybe I'm just being really full of myself, and what will happen will happen all by itself.

Line item number 6 is interesting, or at least the reason it's in there is. I had an interesting, if odd, idea the other day about how to raise awareness of my unemployed/available status to the community. The lines of communication to industry are pretty well sealed: you either apply directly to a company, respond to their classified ad, or go through a headhunter. However, everyone goes home at the end of the day, and everyone has friends and family that interact with the community while they're at work.

I dreamed of holding some sort of community event where a group of unemployed professionals would do something for the community - shovel snow, wash cars, carry your groceries to your vehicle, something like that - and then present each person they help with their "receipt": an explanation of what the group is, what they are trying to do, and that person's résumé attached. Sure, there would be a lot of recycling going on, but it would certainly catch the eyes of the community (and the local media, I'm sure), which is partly what the unemployed professional needs. It could be our way of saying, "If I can be this proactive in unemployment, imagine what I can do within your company!"

I think the key to this group, however, is not going to just be the act of sharing job information. Prolonged unemployment is hard. It is stressful, worrying, it induces anxiety, and disrupts the regular pulse of everyday life. Instead of having a regular schedule, I never know if I'm going to be called for an interview or simply spend a few hours online looking on the job boards. Holidays, if we can afford them, are impossible to plan unless you check your voice mail and e-mail daily, or simply allow that you're not going to look for work for a week. Worst of all, your self-esteem takes a beating, as you start to really wonder why you are so undesirable, despite your years of training and experience. Being able to talk about such problems will not make these issues go away, but having peers that support you and are dealing with the same problems could certainly provide some form of comfort.

In closing, I would welcome you to write to me to join, ask a question, provide a job lead, or just chat about how hard unemployment really is. I would love to see the Alliance/Association/League of Unemployed Professionals really take off and bloom into a huge entity that constantly places professionals in jobs, but I would be content simply to help myself and my friends and acquaintances find careers they can be happy in.


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