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Sunday, August 21, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Job Talk

Hold On! Some Jobs Don't Require Computer Skills

Sun Features Inc.: Los Angeles Times Syndicate

Q. I've been out of work for nearly a year, filling in with temp office work. You depress me.

All you cover is high-tech positions. I am not a high-tech person. Computers are here but I HATE them.

I am a liberal arts major with additional education in elementary education. At 33, I feel like an old woman and I don't belong in this high-tech world.

I'm too old for entry level and not experienced enough for others. I am broke, exhausted and feeling suicidal. Why don't you address people like myself who feel out of touch with the information era. We need help! - Thelma.

A. Here's help from top-notch counselors. The suicidal reference alarmed us. We'll start there.

"Please take care of your suicidal feelings first," advises Deidre Sepp, director of career development at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

"Your feelings may be symptoms of underlying emotional distress. Your nearby mental health office will be able to refer you to a counselor who charges only what you can afford, if anything. Or call a help line, or the United Way for a referral," says Sepp.

Al Todak, a certified personnel consultant in Olympia, agrees: "Urge this reader to get professional help fast. She may have medical reasons for her feelings as well as life stress reasons."

Thelma, please take this advice. Allow someone who cares to show you why the future has your name on it.

Turning to your central question of how a low-tech person can thrive in a high-tech world, Sepp observes that your earlier interest in teaching suggests an interest in helping others, so why not explore nontraditional teaching options or the not-for-profit sector?

"Not all teachers are in public schools. Many are in private schools, day-care centers, basic education (GED) programs, prisons, after-school programs and more. Start by volunteering a few hours a week in an alternative learning environment. The contacts you make may help you find a new job, and the hours spent in an environment more consistent with your personality may give you renewed energy," Sepp explains.

Jennifer Brooks, coordinator of career services at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, hopes you can use your temping experience to get inside a company where you can demonstrate your ability and move up.

Several counselors address their comments to a general audience of non-techies, not specifically to Thelma.

Paul Woo, placement director at the University of Chicago Law School, suggests liberal arts people who are uncomfortable with technology may want to consider telemarketing organizations, especially those that raise money for causes they support. "The primary entry requisite is a sincere and gracious voice."

Hampden-Sydney College (Virginia) career services director George Wells also suggests sales to the non-tech population: "I know of some pretty successful former educators who have made a good living selling children's encyclopedias, life insurance or real estate."

From Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., assistant career services director Joseph Goodwin, urges others to pay heed to Thelma's plight and focus on keeping skills up to date. Take advantage of all professional development opportunities.

Goodwin says: "In the rapidly changing workplace, one can quickly become outdated and no longer needed. Remain marketable!"

Thelma, I am not a high-tech person either. I'm the biggest techno-klutz you ever saw. I force myself to use the decade's new tools. I got all this good advice from colleagues by going on-line with my computer and asking for it.

Q. At 59, I'm finding most freight forwarders say they're looking for a "youthful" attitude, meaning they want someone under 30. I have a tremendous background in the transportation industry but I have virtually no computer expertise. Is there any hope for a woman like me? - G.S.

A. Growing numbers of us are stumbling around in the last years of the 20th century searching for a redefinition of our niche, a search mandated by a rampage of global job realignments.

In one quick example, Evelyn Echols, CEO of Echols' International Travel Training Courses, a vocational school chain headquartered in Chicago, tells me that unlike yesterday when young people filled her classrooms, half of today's students are older managers reformatting for a travel industry career.

Jazzman Eubie Blake, at 100, said if had he anticipated such a long lifespan, he would have taken better care of himself. For many of us now, change that to: "If I'd known I was going to work this long, and that the world would change before my eyes, I'd have taken better care of my job skills." The new work longevity represents historical change.

Recently visiting my hometown, St. Louis, I viewed the paintings of a favorite friend, Nadja Wilson Watts, who at 84 is producing and selling lovely canvases as fast as she can whisk out her easel. Similar to Grandma Moses, Nadja became serious about art later in life. Her self-motivation is dynamic:

"When my mother died, my father told me that as the oldest child, 7 years, I must look after the family while he was at work. He assured me that I could do anything. I never questioned that assumption. `I can do anything' became the motto of my life. And now? Age is only a number," Nadja proclaims.

In Encinitas, Calif., last week I attended the 90th birthday party of poet Edward Francis Sanger, where I met his kid sister, Vera White. At 80, Vera is an active antiques writer and estate appraiser in Boca Raton, Fla. She was anxious to rush home where she's putting the finishing touches on a fascinating new book of truth-is-stranger-than-fiction stories.

At my hairdresser's, I ran into Edith K., an 88-year-old who is neither an artist nor a writer, but a former teacher. Several months ago she bought her first computer and is, in her words, "having the time of my life with this new bridge to the world. I look forward to making new friends on the Internet."

Edith says she is attending night school computer classes but plans to call a high school career center and hire a student at $5 an hour to be her personal computer trainer. She wants to zip up her computer skills fast and maybe earn a little money computing.

You ask, "Is there any hope for a woman like me?" With a can-do attitude in this new era of extended job life; a willingness to learn fresh skills, take new risks and make new trade-offs to navigate a road you never thought you'd travel; and the realization that age is only a number - in a word, yes.

So update your skills and learn new improved ways to job hunt or to become your own boss. Ask a careers-savvy librarian to make resource suggestions. All of us are too young to waste talent, but too old to waste time. Move quickly.

As Ed Sanger says in his 90th birthday poem, "Brief Moment":

When I was very young, the days.

Stretched far ahead, in endless ways.

But the days went by, and the weeks did, too.

And the months progressed, and the seasons grew.

Even the years went swiftly by.

And ever a little older, I.

Whose life seems now, less than an hour.

Passing, like a summer shower.

Send your questions to Joyce Lain Kennedy c/o The Seattle Times, Business News Department, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. Copyright 1994, Sun Features Inc., distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate.

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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