February 2, 2013

Life after Hostess

While they hope that the Biddeford bakery will reopen, those who lost their jobs are trying to move forward.

By Gillian Graham ggraham@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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BOB PRESCOTT: A former route sales driver, Prescott, 59, will begin a truck driving course this week and is excited about the new opportunity.

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SUE TAPLEY: A former mixer, Tapley, 58, hopes to return to the bakery, but has created a resume and applied for jobs online for the first time in her life.

Photos by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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So far Tapley has seen lots of listings for part-time or temporary jobs, most requiring on-the-job experience she doesn't have. She is hesitant to retrain for a new career so close to retirement, but she has already applied for about 25 jobs with no response.

"Who would hire me? Without experience and at my age, they're not going to train me," she said. "But I would think my age would be a benefit to them. I think the work ethic of someone who is older is a lot better than someone who is really young."

Yet Tapley isn't giving up hope she'll be able to find a job that suits her. She started her job search by going to the state Department of Labor CareerCenter in Portland, where former Hostess workers can take resume writing classes and other workshops. She has gone back for help with customizing her resume.

When Tapley first applied at JJ Nissen -- before Hostess bought the company -- she "just walked into the (human resources) office and filled out an application. They called you back if you got the job," she said.

FACING MAJOR CHANGES

Mike Roland, manager of the CareerCenter in Portland, said it is not uncommon for people like Tapley, who have worked in the same job for decades, to find their skills need to be upgraded, particularly with regard to technology. They also face a new world of digital job searches where they don't meet potential employers face to face, he said.

"The problem they face is partly the changed nature of looking for a job, but also partly the changed nature of work," he said. "A worker who came up through JJ Nissen in Portland, moved to Biddeford and now has to find work is very likely to need computer skills or skills in advanced production methods in order to be competitive."

The CareerCenters can help people navigate the unemployment system, learn how to search databases for jobs and direct them to retraining and educational opportunities funded by the Workforce Investment Act.

About 40 former Hostess workers have gone to the CareerCenter in Portland, while another 43 have taken advantage of services at the York County CareerCenter in Springvale. Last month, 64 former Hostess workers went to the Goodwill Workforce Solutions Center in Biddeford for assistance.

Roland said the CareerCenters also try to connect with laid-off people by hiring peer-support workers who used to work at the company. The three Hostess employees hired as peer-support workers stay in touch with their former co-workers and often forge one-on-one connections that help people as they navigate through a difficult time in their lives, Roland said.

"It's a fairly traumatic experience. It's equivalent to the loss of a family member or a divorce or other life-changing circumstances," he said. "It hits people hard to lose a job they've had for a long time."

NOT WAITING AROUND

Like Tapley and Prescott, Michael Bourgault of Saco was hit hard when he lost his job as a scaler and mixer in the bakery. At 54, he finds himself without work for the first time in his adult life.

Two months after he picketed with the bakers union at Hostess plants in Maine and Philadelphia, Bourgault now spends his day cleaning the house, cooking dinner and scouring newspapers and the Internet for jobs. He's also dedicated hours to learning how to use a computer -- starting with how to turn it on. He created a resume with help from the CareerCenter in Portland.

"It's a learning process," he said. "Everything is different today."

Bourgault, a military veteran, has applied for about 30 jobs, but so far has had no response.

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MICHAEL BOURGAULT: Bourgault, 54, has applied for a retraining program for military veterans.

Gabe Souza

  


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