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Rebounding: Going back to school helps couple overcome job loss

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Kyle Bookout and his wife, Uria, lost their jobs and then their house during the recession. They both went back to school, and Kyle Bookout just graduated from IUPUC with a bachelor's degree in business. His wife is scheduled to graduate next year.
Kyle Bookout and his wife, Uria, lost their jobs and then their house during the recession. They both went back to school, and Kyle Bookout just graduated from IUPUC with a bachelor's degree in business. His wife is scheduled to graduate next year. PHOTO BY ANDREW LAKER

KYLE Bookout and his wife, Uria, lost their jobs at the same time in February 2009.

“All of the bad things you hear on TV came true,” said Kyle Bookout, a Munster native.

For seven years he had worked as a computer technician for an online retailer of spiritual items in southern Indiana. He and his wife were spared in the first round of layoffs, but it got them talking.

They had not received raises in four years, yet their expenses, especially for health insurance, kept going up.

Kyle Bookout had an associate degree in network technology, and Uria Bookout had some college — though no degree.

They kept in the back of their minds that if they lost their jobs, they might go back to school. Both lost their jobs in a second wave of layoffs.

“I got laid off with people who’d worked there 40 years,” Kyle Bookout said.

Though they got severance for about three months and then unemployment, the couple struggled. They lost their car. Then their home.

“You have to learn how to manage money very quickly,” Kyle Bookout said.

Luckily, he said, the couple had a good support system. They stayed with friends and in apartments.

And they retained a good attitude, viewing the situation as a “do-over.”

They had little hope of finding employment right away amid a bad recession.

They visited friends in Columbus and liked the city and its proximity to Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Louisville.

They also saw a diverse business community, with nearby cities including Franklin and Seymour also faring fairly well.

“This is the right community for us,” Bookout recalled thinking.

It was an “active area in an inactive job market,” he said.

The couple asked themselves where they could best compete for jobs once the economy improved.

“Columbus was a great choice,” Kyle Bookout said.

The couple filed an application for student aid, and, after collecting unemployment for about 1½ years, enrolled at IUPUC.

Kyle Bookout got a part-time job as a campus computer technician in November 2010.

Joe Frank, a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, said many people who have lost jobs during the recession, especially if they have worked the same job for decades and lack college degrees, hesitate to go back to school.

Some people who come to the local unemployment office find that they lack basic skills and need to take some remediation classes before they can tackle additional training or college courses, said Bart Brown, president and CEO of the Region 9 Workforce Development Board, which includes Bartholomew County.

Brown said people need to realize that skills required for the job market today are much different from in the past.

“Some people just don’t believe us,” Brown said. They think they will find a job as soon as the economy picks up.

And the longer they remain unemployed, the more difficult it becomes to find a job.

Kyle Bookout, who graduated in May, said he came back to school sort of thinking that he needed a diploma only because somebody else wanted him to have it.

He said he never would have guessed that with all the experience he had in his field, that he still had so much to learn.

Frank said employers today have a much larger labor pool from which they can choose employees. That means they look for people who have the right attitude and soft skills (which includes showing up for work) and they ask applicants what they have done during their unemployment. Did they get training? Did they get an education? Did they volunteer?

Education and training, especially in the right industries, significantly boost an applicant’s chance for employment, Brown said.

“Employers are looking for people that constantly are trying to better themselves,” he said.

For most continuing education, grants are available, Brown said. An education at a state college, such as Ivy Tech, probably costs nothing, although students will have to pursue a degree in which they are likely to find employment.

Brown encouraged job seekers to come to the Work One office in the Columbus Learning Center. A skills assessment will tell applicants where they are and what they need to do.

Acquiring certificates through several weeks or months of study can pay big dividends, Brown said, and even short-term courses can help.

Julia Karles, who graduated from Columbus North High School in 2009, said a one-week certification course in robotics programming at Ivy Tech helped her get a full-time job at Pyramid Paper, a local box company.

“I think just having any kind of certificate helps,” Karles said.

She said the income from the full-time job definitely helps her pay bills and take care of her son, Gavin, who will turn 3 in August.

With many job applicants lacking even a high school diploma, a certificate can set you apart from the rest, Karles said.

As the local economy has improved, the number of people who have been employed long-term also has declined. According to Indiana Department of Workforce Development, through the first five months of last year, an average 814 people were collecting unemployment checks for at least the 27th week. That number had declined to 519 for the same period of this year.

Kyle Bookout said he would encourage people who are wary of going back to school to give it a try.

People can take just one class and see how they like it, he said. Many college campuses have students in their 40s and 50s.

Bookout, 31, now works for IUPUC full-time, supervising the mostly part-time computer technicians.

“I know what they go through every day, because I did it,” he said.

Uria Bookout is expected to graduate with a business degree next May, and though Kyle Bookout said the couple now have to worry about paying back their student loans, they’re in a much better position than before.

“I think what we’ve done was absolutely the right thing,” he said. “I’m glad we came here.”

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