‘I wasn’t there for the lunch’
by BETH ALTENA
When Rockford resident Sandra Cox includes in her preference of job openings the word “dental” because she formerly worked as a dental hygienist, employment programs include in her list of choices jobs that offer dental benefits. This is just one observation Cox was able to share with Governor Rick Snyder during a luncheon discussion of ways to help unemployed or underemployed Michiganders find work.
“I wasn’t there for the lunch,” Cox shared with the Squire after her July 25 visit in Lansing.
As a single parent, a woman and a person over the age of 50 in a challenging employment atmosphere in our state, Cox thought her experience very valid. “I felt I was representative of a lot of people in this economy,” she said.
In late 2011, Cox entered a contest offered by Michigan Talent, the state’s online resource for those seeking jobs in the state. With over a million resumes online, her chances to win one of three spots for potential employees may have seemed very low, but Cox felt she had a good chance to win and wanted very much the contest’s main prize—a sit-down with the Governor.
Cox may well represent many Michigan residents and their difficulties finding appropriate employment. She now works in manufacturing at less than 10 dollars an hour. Others who work there, like her, are qualified to offer much more to society.
Cox grew up in a third-generation General Motors family and graduated summa cum laude from her high school, 16th in her class of 444. She continued her education at Ferris State University, where she was on a waiting list for dental hygienist school. Two years and still waiting, Cox attended Grand Rapids Community College and there earned an associate’s of applied arts and science in dental hygiene.
While in college Cox worked two jobs, including one as a cashier at the Plainfield Meijer, eventually moving on to the corporate offices in Walker, where she worked as the corporate receptionist. At that time, Meijer had a 75 percent reimbursement rate for tuition, so she took the opportunity to return to college for a degree in business administration-marketing/sales, graduating from Grand Valley State University in 1993.
In January 2008, just shy of her 50th birthday, Cox lost her job as dental hygienist due to downsizing. She had been married and divorced with two children: a son, Nate, most recently stationed in Hawaii with his high school sweetheart and now wife Jessica, after two tours of duty as sergeant in Iraq with the United States Army; and daughter Tessa. Tessa, a Rockford High School student who has enthusiastically studied Chinese and Japanese at the district, is excited about her growing skills as a multi-language speaker.
Cox said she looked for jobs where she can use her talents and earn enough to hang onto her Rockford home, but believes employment culture is changing. During the past four years she has found work, but is currently making less per year than she did as a college student working through school. She nearly lost her modest home but benefited from the “Making Homes Affordable Program,” which helped, but leaves her with a mortgage payment into her 90s. Unfortunately, her story is hardly unique.
While lunching with Snyder, she was able to hear from a man who is very qualified and also having a hard time finding work and another man who started his own business and currently employs a dozen people. She said the first said he had been downsized three times and is often told he is overqualified for the jobs available or his experience doesn’t match the position. The second said his company invests in his employees, giving the business a base of qualified and loyal staff.
Where Cox works now, regular employees have gone nearly a decade without a raise, but receive bonuses as compensation during record-profit years. All three scenarios may be part of a shifting employment culture. She said her experience working as a temporary employee may be part of that trend, where employers use the temps, who don’t earn vacation days or have benefits.
Cox is excited about her chance to share her views and hear the stories of others. She believes the state’s Shifting Gears program—which helps professionals transition and apply their skills into other fields—is a positive start in adapting to new employment realities.
Another underemployed participant shared with Governor Snyder his thoughts on the state’s multiple online programs to help find jobs: consolidate to just one so information is streamlined rather than repetitive. Another suggestion: make better use of social media in job searches. Cox believes the paper resume is practically a thing of the past.
“Will I ever have a steady, secure job and income again in Michigan? That is why I entered the Pure Michigan Talent contest—for the opportunity it afforded me to be able to say ‘Yes’ to Michigan again.”