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Experience counts

Displaced workers re-enter the workforce through technical sales training

Melanie Casper-Duffey has worked in technical jobs for all of her adult life. Now 48, she was employed full-time without any problems until about two and a half years ago. At that point she believes she became unemployed because of her age and gender.

Melanie Casper-Duffey, inside sales, Electro-Steam Generator Corp.

Melanie Casper-Duffey, inside sales, Electro-Steam Generator Corp. – AARON HOUSTON

“I was trained as a mechanical designer at the vo-tech in 1988,” she said. “I have been working in mechanical sales, industrial sales, bearing seals, lubricants, transmissions, motors, hydraulics, and pneumatics for 25 years,” she said.

“I had been unable to get a permanent position in the last two to three years,” she said. Prospective employers told her she was, “not the right fit or this is not the right time. Every excuse you could imagine other than you are just too old or you’re female.”

Earlier in her career, she worked for one employer for 13 years and another for six and a half years.

More recently, she endured the struggles of being in between jobs. Needing to earn money like any adult, she became a driver for ride-sharing company Uber for a year to get by financially.

After hearing about the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program through the unemployment center in Camden, she thought it would be a stepping stone to connect with employers to showcase her occupational skills.

“Just because I am older does not mean I will not be a long-time prospect,” Casper-Duffey said.

She signed up with NJMEP in late June and began taking a technical skills class in mid-July, completing it in August. By Sept. 20, she had started a technical sales position at Electro-Steam Generator in Rancocas.

Returning to work

Displaced professional people generally boast a wealth of skills. They are eager to continue in their respective industries or acquire new training to enter a new industry. Such individuals may have become displaced due to personal reasons not related to their job performance. They may have taken time off to care for a family member. Some workers lost jobs due to former employers reducing expenses resulting in layoffs.

Casper-Duffey represents a success story of a professional who was temporarily displaced and has now returned full-time to the workforce. New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program President and Chief Executive Officer John Kennedy said the organization can assist displaced workers by providing technical sales training, open enrollment training, and upskilling.

Open-enrollment training is the best way for many small- to mid-sized firms to train key staff without spending too much time or money, Kennedy said.

NJMEP has developed a variety of courses, with many providing credentials and certificates in a variety of areas including food safety, cyber security, lean six sigma, ISO and quality, supervisory skills, ESL technical, innovation and growth.

John Kennedy, CEO, New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program.

John Kennedy, CEO, New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program. – NJMEP

“The problem that we keep coming against sometimes is convincing companies to take a shot on somebody,” Kennedy said. “You need a person who wants the job, wants to maintain their level of income but they are moving into a different career. That person has to accept those realities. We all do.”

Sales jobs vary from selling a car to a husband and wife who have a baby to selling machinery that is part of a production line. “As a salesperson, we know the hot points,” Kennedy said. “You have got to be able to communicate. Can I teach you the technical stuff? Probably. Can I teach you how to interact with a different client base? We are always selling to someone different.”

NJMEP’s technical sales training is a registered apprenticeship and is vetted and approved by the United States Department of Labor. “We not only understand and represent what industry wants, we understand what the individual wants and needs,” Kennedy said. “We have worked very hard at developing a process that creates a flow: training that is applicable.”

Missing out?

Being rejected for a job is painful, especially for someone with decades of professional experience.

Casper-Duffey recalled being upset whenever she received a rejection by email.

“I feel half the people did not see my resume,” she said. “I have been hired directly by hiring managers.”

She believes a lot of distributors and manufacturers are missing out strictly because of a disconnect between their expectations and the diversity of qualified candidates. She believes employers do not even consider half of all applicants.

“Our job is to help individuals and to provide employees for our manufacturers,” said Koleen Singerline, an NJMEP recruiting specialist. “We give them five weeks of sales training, a webinar on social media and LinkedIn, and customer relationship management websites. Many of these displaced workers have not used this software. Most of my people are older than 60 years old. Some have been at a job for many years and a company closed. It is shocking.”

“Many are depressed,” she said. “We spend time telling them they are valuable.”

I had been unable to get a permanent position in the last two to three years … Every excuse you could imagine other than you are just too old or you’re female.
– Melanie Casper-Duffey

Singerline said she finds displaced workers through the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, which provides a grant of $200,000 annually to train displaced workers. She has trained a total of 76 displaced workers during the first two years of the Opportunity Sponsorship Grant.

When she meets with displaced workers, Singerline explains what the training entails, and learns who the displaced workers are in terms of their occupational skills and personalities.

Singerline envisions more hiring managers in companies are younger and some are biased against hiring older workers.

“When you hire an older worker, you are getting someone great,” Singerline said. “The best thing is to get out, see where you are marketable,” she said. “There is an age bias against older workers. We cannot pretend there is not. We educate recruiters about the value of their resume. I look at 100 resumes per day. I skip over resumes that are not professionally written.”

As a recruiter, there is no one template in terms of the resume that fits anyone.

Depending on the person, the last 10 years of employment may be the most valuable. For others, they should include their entire professional experience on their resume.

Kennedy laments that NJMEP cannot help every displaced worker as much as he wants. A one-size-fits-all mentality doesn’t work.

“I think there are so many people who have choices to make in their careers that it is difficult for one entity, or 50 entities to make a real difference,” Kennedy said.

David Hutter
David Hutter grew up in Darien, Conn., and covers higher education, transportation and manufacturing for NJBIZ. He can be reached at: