Laid-off workers seek to turn the keys to their futures at BTC

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Saturday, August 2, 2008
— School might be the key to the future for the hundreds of local people who have lost their jobs or are facing layoffs.

And a lot of them know it, to judge by the turnout Friday at Blackhawk Technical College. BTC officials estimated nearly 300 people turned out for a four-hour open house.

BTC offered advice and stacks of brochures for those facing the prospect of going back to school after years in the workforce. They also offered free lunch.

Many of the workers were from the General Motors plant—some laid off and some still on the job. Some brought spouses or children. All brought questions.

Steve Olson of Janesville, a GM line worker for 13 years, said he expects to be laid off sometime in September, too late for BTC’s fall semester, which starts Aug. 25.

Olson figures he’ll start in January, but he’s not sure what career path he wants to pursue, yet.

“It’s been a while since I even thought about school,” Olson said.

Several other workers were in the same boat, so they visited various tables in the BTC cafeteria, considering BTC’s offerings.

“I’m just checking it out right now,” said GM line worker Millie Swan of Janesville. “I’m trying to be optimistic about GM bringing in another product, but I still want to retain that option (of going back to school.)

Swan, 52, is laid off. She said lots of her former co-workers already are signed up to start school in August.

BTC is reporting a big influx of new students. BTC President Eric Larson said he’ll be interested to see what the numbers are when school begins, and then how many drop out as the semester progresses.

While dropouts are inevitable, BTC’s support staff’s job is to keep as many as possible. Among the support services offered are labs where students can get help in English, math or science.

Swan ate a hamburger lunch courtesy of BTC with Brenda Sommers, another GM line worker who still has her job.

The uncertainty of when the layoff notice will come makes planning for school difficult, said Somers, 35.

“Nobody’s really sure,” Sommers said. “We try to get answers, and we can’t.

Bret Bailey, GM worker with 22 years on the job, said the hardest part is deciding what field to get into. But he’s also worried about his age.

“Who wants to hire a guy in our 40s when they can hire a guy right out of college?” he asked.

Dale Townsend, a worker at GM supplier Lear Corp., said he has changed jobs before and feels confident he can do it again.

“I’m here expecting the worst, and still you hold out hope that they can do something,” said Townsend, 49, who worked the night shift for 16 years and now is on days after Lear cut back.

Townsend complimented BTC staff for their help: “It flowed so well. Everybody is so helpful.”

Staff knew the score on the layoff situation, so there was no need to explain where he was coming from, or why, Townsend said.

Townsend said more workers should consider returning to school.

“There’s a lot of smart people working in the factories who don’t realize another job opportunity is just around the corner, with just a little enhancement of job skills,” he said.

But it will be an adjustment.

A BTC counselor who addressed an orientation class of 35 people cautioned them that attending college means managing time so that studies—and families—don’t suffer.

“Usually, for every one hour in class, you should spend two to three hours outside of class, preparing for that class,” counselor Cindy Fuerstenberg said.

A sheet about time management included this caution: “Your house doesn’t have to be spotless, your family doesn’t need homemade meals every night, the kids can help with daily chores and laundry, you don’t have to be super mom or dad, especially if you’re working full-time and going to school.”


For questions about attending Blackhawk Technical College, call Margo Swan at (608) 743-4463, or e-mail her at mswan@blackhawk.edu, or explore BTC’s Web site at www.blackhawk.edu.

Last updated: 10:04 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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