Jobless Americans wary of losing their edge

Mon Dec 20, 2010 12:22pm EST
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By Kristina Cooke

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Since losing her job last April, Laurianne Dobbins has known one thing: she wasn't going to let her skills get rusty.

So the 45-year-old mechanical designer bought a training edition of the drafting software she had used at work and practiced daily.

"If you don't do it every day you can lose the skills," said Dobbins, from Rochester, New York. "I didn't want that to happen to me."

She stopped her hobby of singing and missed out on outdoor pursuits with her family on weekends as she searched for work. "In my situation I felt the need to justify all my time," she said. "My whole lifestyle changed."

About four months into her job search she started volunteering 4-6 hours a week at a local hospital, working in the project engineering department.

Her fight to stay on top of her game is central to a key economic debate in the United States. At what point do people who have been unemployed for several months become unemployable? And how can they stop that from happening?

"In occupations that are more skilled and change a lot, if you haven't done something to keep up, the employer might think: Why should we spend a lot of our money over the next few months to get this person back up to speed?" said Gary Burtless, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

"But I would suspect that in more occupations, the only skill that atrophies is the ability to get up and go to work every morning."   Continued...

<p>A woman browses job openings at a job fair in Los Angeles, California, October 12, 2010. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson</p>