Sears Lays Off, Retrains Staff
For nearly a half year 1100 workers in the Dorchester and Fenway areas of Boston have known they will lose their jobs when two Sears plants close their doors this winter.
To allay the future employment fears of these soon-to-be former Sears employees the state began this fall an innovative education program in partnership with industry.
The program, which is being held at Roxbury Community College (RCC), offers these workers free courses in reading, writing, mathematics, English as a Second Language (ESL), and preparation for the high school equivalency examination, state and Sears officials said.
The state will eventually provide vocational counselors to assist the workers in their career planning, said Rosa M. Benard, business liason between RCC and Sears. Officials said the courses and advice are vital because many of the workers have learned skills at the plant that may be too specialized to be useful elsewhere therse.
The program is funded through RCC by the Massachusetts Industrial Service Program and the Department of Employment Security. Benard described the program as part of RCC's efforts to "build partnerships and collaborative relations between business, industry, and labor."
The extent of Sears' cooperation with the program is "somewhat unique," said Janet E. Boguslaw, an official with the Industrial Service Program. She said the company had taken the unusual steps of telling workers that the plant would close nine months in advance and allowing classes to be held inside the Sears plant.
Classes started in late September, using space provided by Sears. The training program's director, Elizabeth B. Heron '77, is a doctoral candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
About 60 of the 1100 local Sears workers who will lose their jobs this winter accepted the offer of free courses, officials said. "Anyone who had an interest" was admitted to the classes, said Robert J. Santuchi, Sears' personnel manager for the Boston area plants.
Benard said 60 percent of the workers have held their current jobs for more than five years and some have been employed by Sears for as long as 35 years. She added that more than half the employees, most of whom do not have college degrees, make more than $8.50 an hour--wages which officials said will be "difficult...for them to match in similiar positions."
She added that the goal of the program is to give the employees "everything they need to get a job that's comparable" to their current ones."