Typically, the woman will show up at the career center saying, "I'm just a housewife. I can't do anything."
But, says Jim Reed, who teaches a new career-development course for Prince George's Community College, she quickly changes her mind.
"We tell her that as a homemaker she's proficient in budgeting, marketing, researching, analyzing data and compiling information." The list "keeps building on and on," says Reed, until she says, "Wow."
Some people may find out they have as many as 800 transferable skills, says Dave Borchard, director of the college's career center, who also teaches the course.
For example, if the homemaker has researched a product-that she wants to buy, such as a refrigerator, "These are skills she can transfer and put to work for a corporation," perhaps researching investment land," says Reed.
Judith Holland, 38, a college employe who took the course, suggests a "woman in the kitchen making meat loaf" could use some of those skills in a steel factory. "She uses her math ability, she's observing basic safety precautions and she's reading gauges."
The course, offered for credit for the first time last January, is aimed at helping people identify their skills and their interests and then finding a job that matches them. It has proved attractive to disgruntled workers seeking mid-life career changes, women coming into the job market after raising families and military retirees hoping to put their service skills to work in a civilian job.
Borchard believes that a large percentage of the nation's work force may be "misplaced," that is, in the wrong job for them. He attributes this to the way most people go about choosing a career.
First, he says, they look for a job. Then they build their career around that job and their life around that career. The job chose them; they didn't choose the job.
In the new course, Education 131, he and his colleagues hope to break that pattern. They suggest the student first decide what kind of life he or she wants to lead.
Next the students study careers that might foster that life style. And finally, "as a part of a well-thought-out plan," say Borchard, they should go about obtaining a job.
"This course is like none I've ever had before," says Dolores Austin, 45, who returned to school after her three children had grown up. "He digs into you."
Nancy Durham, 28, entrolled last semester for help in finding a career direction when her soon-to-be-born third child is well on the way to school. "I like dealing with people," she says, and is now aiming herself at a top-management job in public relations or sales after she gets a business degree.
The process is called career/life planning. And apparently you're never too late to start. The oldest registered student was 68.
Learning what kind of person you are is important. "An artistic person who takes a conventional job is going to be very unhappy," says Borchard.
One of the students, he said, had obtained a masters degree in biology and worked as a medical research investigator. But despite all his training and experience he was unhappy with the job. In class, he learned "his interests were as opposite as they could be." Rather than research, he found he might better enjoy a selling job related to the medical field.
Another student, a high-ranking administrator who found his interests and his job did not match up, told Borchard, "No wonder I hate getting out of bed and going to work every morning."
Reed, a career-counseling psychologist with the new Department of Education, agrees. "If you're going to do something for eight hours a day, you ought to do something you like. If you're unhappy with your job, you take that unhappiness with you" in your relationships with family and friends.
Some people who want to change careers hesitate, fearing they may have to go back to college for a new degree. Not so, says Reed. "A degree didn't do it for you the first time. Why go back for another one?" He sees Education 131 as an alternative that helps you transfer what you already know to a more satisfying career.
The first portion of the 16-week course, offered in a number of sessions from morning to evening and on weekends, is devoted to self-assessment, says Reed, whose class was held at Andrews Air Force Base. "If I say I can teach history, then teaching is a functional skill I can transfer."
Later, students examine their personality styles and values and the type of environment they like. If you enjoy the out-of-doors, you might prefer an outside job to one inside at a desk. If you don't like cold weather, you might want to work in Southern California.
Along the way, students begin to identify the level of responsibility they feel they can handle and what their salary expectations are. Some people rank "money and status" high, says Reed.
One assignment: interviewing people in career fields a student is interested in. The value to the students, says Reed, is that they get a better feel for the field. "They find that people got into the field through different routes, that a college degree is not always necessary."
At the same time, they're learning job interviewing skills and building up a network of contacts if they decide that's the career for them. Some students have received job offers from the people they interviewed for the class assignment, says Reed.
Has the class been a success? Reed thinks it has, ad he points to an Air Force sergeant in electronics who showed up unsure of what he wanted to do when he retired and unaware of how to approach the job market. Now, says Reed, he's targeted himself to a small of mid-size electronics firm with potential growth in this area.
One of Reed's students, Mary Ann Hourcle, 32, a housewife who once worked in journalism, became "convinced" during the class that she's ready to go back to work. The mother of three sons (the oldest is 6), she says, "The class helped my ego tremendously. If found there are a lote of things I can do."
Marguerite Kenyon, 52, who gave up a job she liked as an FBI fingerprint analyst because she "got bogged down" in the agency's sometimes "pointless rules and regulations," says she found the class "lends itself to supporting the students in their efforts to change."
She had not recognized as marketable skills "things that you do ordinarily every day" in the raising of a family. Having been a mother, she says, "I find it comfortable talking to the students." Using that skill, she now works part-time in the college's career center while pursuing her degree.
Nancy Durham says class instruction in setting priorities on values helped even in her personal life. "Now I now what I have to do to get through the day. I have to do my homework instead of the laundry."
Between 150 to 200 people have taken the course so far. Registration is now underway for the spring semester beginning Jan. 19. The basic cost for Prince George's County residents is $52.50 plus fees and a $10 book; for other Maryland residents it's $123 plus fees and book; and for non-Maryland residents it's $213 plus fees and book.