Las Vegas Sun

August 27, 2015

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For Las Vegas, cold comfort on jobs front

Everyone has begun opening Microsoft Word documents. “What,” a bald guy in a Steelers shirt asks, “is Microsoft?”

Librarian Kevin Scanlon has his work cut out for him. Ninety minutes from now he’s supposed to have this baker’s dozen of students creating resumes. But first he has to explain the basics. The very basics. “It’s the company that makes the product,” he says patiently.

This group has gathered in the Green Valley Library on Tuesday morning for the last in a series of four beginning computer classes, and let’s just say that most don’t seem part of a demographic normally associated with technological fluency. The 13 students sit at four long tables equipped with terminals, poking, some rather hesitantly, at their keyboards.

Here in this large, airy room, all high ceilings and exposed beams, it’s warm; outside it’s cool and breezy, in advance of the near-freezing temps said to be coming just in time for Black Friday. Lowest November lows in 17 years, they say. But the real chills are coming from the economy — on Monday came word of a study by Forbes.com that seemed to confirm what we already know: Las Vegas is the hardest city in which to find a job.

“Lift your finger off the left mouse button,” Scanlon is telling the class as he shows them how to select a block of text and change its font and point sizes. He is precise and meticulous; for people not adept at computers, and probably a little confused and intimidated by technology, clarity of instruction is paramount.

Monday was also the day we woke up to the morning-news perkies telling us — excitedly! — that unemployment in Vegas fell from a whopping 15 percent in September to a still-pretty-damn-whopping 14.1 percent in October. I wasn’t fully awake, but I’m pretty sure I heard one of the broadcasters use the word “celebrate.”

Well, hey, let’s hear it for optimism! “I think it’s going to be better than 2009,” retail consultant John Restrepo told the Sun, speaking of upcoming holiday sales. And, “We’re expecting a good holiday season with consumer confidence up and the economic indicators trending upward,” said Laurie Paquette, a vice president of groovy buzzwords at General Growth Properties.

Well, you gotta like some upward trending.

As Scanlon explains to one student what a default setting is, there’s quiet murmuring around the room as the early adapters help some of the later adapters through the copy-and-paste exercise. It’s a warming reminder that the urge to help and instruct, even when it comes to strangers, runs deep in us. Then Scanlon shows them how to highlight text and change colors. “There,” he says, having laid a yellow highlight over red text, “how’s that for ugly?”

Something deeper in the news about the drop in unemployment gave a shiver. The Sun quoted an official at the state Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation as saying: “Most likely, a number of workers have moved out of state, while some have become discouraged and stopped looking for work.”

That is, to some degree, it’s fake good news — less about job creation than the jobless either heading out or giving up, thus not being counted. As the state official acknowledged, “(T)here is no sign of a major job growth on the horizon.” How’s that for ugly?

Now Scanlon has the class working on Microsoft’s “Easy Fill in the Blank Resume for Professionals.” “Don’t mess with the layout,” he advises. To demonstrate how to fill in the blanks, he’s typed “I am a professional librarian” on the sample resume projected in front of the class.

Arching your gaze over a few shoulders, it’s clear that while some have immediately grasped how to work the program, others seem paralyzed in bewilderment. One student has attempted to emulate Scanlon: “I am a professional in library.”

Now, some of these students just want to up their competence for personal reasons, so it doesn’t really matter if they choose hideous fonts or can’t quite work the spell-check. But for those here to improve their traction in the workplace — a growing number, Scanlon will tell me later — these keystrokes have higher stakes. And there’s an undeniable feel-good vibe at the sight of people being proactive about their futures in the face of this subzero economy.

Later, the news will tell us that home values have slipped again, but that taxable sales are slightly up. More unpredictable November weather.

Class ends, and some students cluster around Scanlon, asking more questions, while others drift outside. Cold front’s moving in.

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