As many companies scale back operations, laid off workers are forced to ask the question: Now what?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 29, 2001

Suddenly laid off from jobs they thought were secure, workers often do not know where to turn or what to do.

Options are more varied than the out-of-work folks might have thought, say those who deal with plights of the unemployed on a regular basis.

Peggy Ballard, manager of the Natchez office of the state Unemployment Security Commission, acknowledges a rush on her office in recent weeks.

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&uot;Things are very unstable for a lot of people now,&uot; she said. &uot;There are many people wondering what is going to happen. We have people coming in who are still employed but worried about their future.&uot;

Layoffs at Titan Tire and Ethyl Petroleum Additives have thrust newly unemployed into the job-hunting marketplace.

With the fate of International Paper’s Natchez mill in limbo as the company seeks a purchaser for the plant, many of the small businesses, including loggers, are facing or already have implemented scale backs.

Ballard has noted a new attitude among many of the recent clients. &uot;A few months ago, people would not have considered leaving Natchez to find another job. Now that is changing, and a few are including that as an option,&uot; she said.

The Unemployment Security Commission offers assistance in several ways.

Taking the work application from individuals.

Sending them to the computers to look for available jobs.

Showing them the software for preparing resumes.

&uot;A vocational counselor can help people to make changes in their goals, to look at whether the changes in the marketplace should have them looking for new directions,&uot; Ballard said.

&uot;There has been a definite increase in people coming in. We could talk to people all day.&uot;

Large corporations who lay off employees generally provide assistance during the severance period, said Liz Ludwig, corporate spokesperson for Ethyl Corporation.

The Natchez Ethyl Petroleum Additives plant is in its final weeks, and several dozen employees there have been laid off.

&uot;We’re closing this plant because of the type of additives Natchez was producing,&uot;&160;Ludwig said &uot;We lost a big customer and big volume in sales.&uot;

Ethyl is providing out-placement services between now and closing day at the end of May.

A firm contracted through human services offers specific programs for the laid-off workers. The firm:

Offers classes and workshops in things such as how to get a new resume together.

Conducts mock interviews.

Teaches tactics in networking.

Provides counselors for those who find the process of facing a lay off difficult.

Ludwig said the services are more than just a gesture on the part of the corporation.

&uot;We have employees there who haven’t had to put a resume together in 10 years, and this definitely is useful to them.&uot;

Andrew Ketchings, interim director of the Natchez-Adams Economic Development Authority, said state programs also come to the aid of laid-off workers.

&uot;The state has a program called Rapid Response,&uot; said Ketchings, who also is a state representative.

&uot;It’s a system that assists by offering retraining and things such as that.&uot;

The Rapid Response program can assist when the layoff numbers are small as well as when large companies announce ahead of time that there will be substantial cuts in jobs. Programs include:

Helping to develop an employment plan.

Consulting on activities to minimize the effects of the layoff.

Providing access to information on employment resources.

Allowing workers to make their own career choices.

Ketchings said for Natchez the problem often is underemployment rather than unemployment.

&uot;People want to stay in Natchez and they have to take jobs that are beneath their level of expertise,&uot; he said.

Talk of layoffs leads to hope that new jobs will be available, he said. And as head of EDA he can say that two good prospects are considering the Natchez port area now.

&uot;We need some good news. New companies would be a step in the right direction.&uot;