Options can help moms keep other career alive

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

Published:

 

Returning to a career

Three resources for homemakers relaunching a career:

WHAT: WorkSource Vancouver’s Displaced Homemaker Program.

WHEN: First-come, first-served, 7 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday.

WHERE: 5411 E. Mill Plain Blvd. Suite 15.

DETAILS: 735-5000, https://fortress.wa.gov/esd/worksource/.

COST: None.

•••

WHAT: Southwest Washington Displaced Homemaker Center.

WHEN: 7:30 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday-Thursday; 7:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Fridays.

WHERE: Room 127, Gaiser Hall, Clark College, 1933 Fort Vancouver Way.

DETAILS: 360-992-2321.

•••

WHAT: Career Re-Launch Series for Stay-At-Home Moms.

WHEN: 5:30-7 p.m. Thursdays, Sept. 15-Nov. 17.

WHERE: Firstenburg Community Center, 700 N.E. 136th Ave.

DETAILS: 510-936-0808, http://lhcareers.com/.

COST: $150.

photoKim Puyleart, right, leads a fitness class Tuesday for new moms Tracy Franz, left, and Laura Hofmann at Hockinson Meadows Community Park. The class allows the mothers to interact with Conan Franz, 7 months, left, and Astrid Hofmann, 13 months, while they get it shape. It’s also one of the ways Puyleart keeps up her career while being a stay-at-home mom.

(/The Columbian)

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Vancouver mother Kim Puyleart and two other women push their babies’ strollers around a track at Hockinson Meadows Park as they lunge forward and sing, “If you’re happy and you know it, stomp your feet.”

Seven-month-old Conan Franz, who is watching his mother participate in the procession, erupts into laughter. The giggles are notes of reassurance to Puyleart that her latest business venture to simultaneously provide mother fitness and baby entertainment has pleased her customers.

“For me, it’s a way to reach out to moms,” Puyleart says.

When Puyleart was confined to bed rest during her pregnancy with her year-old daughter, Carissa, she decided to resign from her job as a teacher at Covington Middle School in order to stay home with the baby after she was born. But she didn’t abandon her career, which included eight years of teaching and 10 years’ experience as a certified personal trainer. Instead, she began to sell nutritional supplements and offer personal training. The Mommy Fitness Play Group is her latest business idea. The side jobs allow Puyleart to remain home with Carissa while Puyleart keeps up and develops her job skills and earns a little cash.

Her approach illustrates what local employment experts say are the right things to do to prepare for re-entry into the job market after staying at home to care for children.

“The challenge for a lot of stay-at-home moms is when they relaunch their careers, they have large gaps in their résumé, their skills are outdated, or they have no professional experience because they started a family right out of college,” says Laura Hofmann, a Camas employment consultant and stay-at-home mom. “Their skills get rusty. They get more self-conscious and paralyzed with fear.”

The way to avoid falling into that intimidating position is to stay connected with people and experiences that help maintain job skills and professional networks, Hofmann says. That sets the groundwork for a parent when she or he is ready to or has to return to the labor force.

Before Hofmann moved to Camas and started her family, she worked as an employment counselor at a career center in California’s Silicon Valley.

“One of the populations I worked with was displaced homemakers,” she says. “They raised their children and hadn’t worked for pay for all those years. It was really hard to watch and see their husbands get laid off after 20 years. They would be desperate to help out and to bring some money into the house.”

More than 43 percent of mothers with children younger than 1 and nearly 29 percent of mothers with children younger than 18 were not in the labor force in 2009, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The challenges those mothers face when they re-enter the labor force are on par with those who are unemployed. In their pursuit of landing a job, they’re at a disadvantage compared with job-seekers who are already employed, says Noel Woods, a quality assurance supervisor at WorkSource Vancouver.

“When you have a gap in employment, there are going to be questions: Are your skills still current?” Woods says. “Your job is then to overcome those questions in the employer’s mind. Yes, your skills are still current, and you have the skills they’re looking for.”

However, Woods discourages job-seekers from excluding their experience as a stay-at-home parent in their résumé.

“I suggest just coming right out and addressing it in a cover letter that you are attempting to re-enter the workforce after being out to take care of your kids,” she says. “If you don’t explain, their mind might go directly to ‘Were you in prison all that time?’ What I wouldn’t try to do is dress it up as ‘domestic engineer.’”

Woods and Hofmann both recommend stay-at-home parents volunteer in the community to keep up their skills or to develop new ones.

“Employers are looking for not only your work experience but that you are involved, and you can problem solve,” Woods says. “Volunteer experiences are things you could put on a résumé later on to show you have different kind of skills. It could be a neighborhood association or a PTA.”

Certain fields might be harder to keep up on than others, Woods says. For example, if you are in technology, you might have to invest more effort in maintaining your skills. Reading trade magazines and maintaining membership in professional organizations can help, she says.

Hofmann says mothers usually have networks on Facebook or other venues where they can organize activities and keep in touch. Use those networks to find volunteer or work experience opportunities, she says. Attend meetings of professional networks you’re interested in getting a job in after your stint as a stay-at-home mom, Hofmann says. Knowing people in the right places is one of the best ways to find a job, she says.

For example, Puyleart recently connected with another mother who has always wanted to be in the fitness industry. The mother has agreed to help Puyleart with her at-home business in exchange for the work experience and knowledge she’ll gain from Puyleart.

Work hard at not losing your identity as a professional, Hofmann says.

“Introduce yourself as a mom and as a Web designer, for example,” she says.

Stay-at-home mothers may have an advantage in acquiring work experience because they have flexible schedules and may not demand as many work hours or benefits. If there isn’t pressure to earn income, work for free in order to gain experience, Hofmann says. It could put you in a better position when you look for a paid full-time job later on.

Hofmann says it’s also important not to apologize for your decision to be a stay-at-home mom.

“Be confident in your decision,” she says.

Paris Achen: 360-735-4551; http://www.twitter.com/Col_Trends; http://www.facebook.com/ColTrends; paris.achen@columbian.com.