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Michelle Singletary: Ivanka Trump's 'find something new' career campaign is more hype than help

Michelle Singletary: Ivanka Trump's 'find something new' career campaign is more hype than help

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Washington —Two rich people have decided to tell millions of unemployed people that all they need to do to feed their families and put a roof over their heads is “find something new.”

White House adviser Ivanka Trump and U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross are the co-chairs of the American Policy Workforce Advisory Board, which this month introduced the Find Something New ad campaign and an accompanying website aimed at helping people find a fresh career path.

The initiative did not go over so well on social media. In defense of the effort, the first daughter tweeted this to one critic: “I suggest that you visit http://Find SomethingNew.org. This initiative is about challenging the idea the traditional 2 and 4 yr college is the only option to acquire the skills needed to secure a job. This work has never been more urgent.”

I took up her challenge.

The website is glitzy and gimmicky, but it is hardly amazing.

I spent hours using the website as an unemployed person might or someone looking for a better-paying job. It’s a decent start. But aside from some inspirational videos, plodding through FindSomethingNew.org was a frustrating endeavor. It’s a directionless information dump.

Want to help people? Create a portal with live career counselors, or put more money on the table for scholarships and grants so folks can afford college-level courses or obtain the certification needed to get jobs in rising career fields.

Instead, what users will find at this website is a labyrinth of links that often don’t directly take them to new job opportunities.

And despite the claim that FindSomethingNew.org will offer people an alternative path from two- and four-year college, many of the offerings require just that — an associate degree or a fair amount of technical training or coursework.

Still, I did what Ivanka Trump asked. I checked the site out, starting with the “Find Your Path” drop-down menu.

The first option is online learning, which “can lead to jobs in IT administration, web and software development, and more,” visitors are told. Apple gets top billing on this page. Users are promised they can “learn to develop apps in Swift, Apple’s powerful and intuitive programming language, through free online course guides.”

This looks hopeful. I’m steered to Apple.com. You can download free books to learn coding, but how many people can teach themselves this skill with little or no instruction? After clicking through several other pages, I found my way to “App Development with Swift 4.2.” It’s a five-day course. Great. That’s not so bad. Cost: $3,750.

Where might an unemployed worker who is worried about next month’s rent get that kind of money? Next.

The second listing under online learning is for Gateway Technical College in Kenosha, Wis. You’ve got experience as a cashier, but you’ve been laid off. So, why not study to be an accountant with a salary outlook of about $60,000 a year? However, absent financial aid, you’ll need to come up with $10,548 for tuition and fees, plus an additional $4,341 for books and supplies.

Want to start a business or move into a management position? At udemy.com you can get “an entire MBA in 1 course.” The eight-hour online course is an affordable $12.99. I’m sure this training will make you an attractive job candidate.

Under the “Certification programs” tab is a listing for the National Retail Federation Foundation’s Rise Up program for people interested in retail careers. What’s new about retail employment?

It’s tone-deaf to list this career pathway, considering that retail has been one of the hardest-hit industries amid the coronavirus. J. Crew, Brooks Brothers, and J.C. Penney all filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection since the pandemic began.

“Job losses in the latest recession have been concentrated in sectors in which social distancing of workers is difficult or the option to telework is lacking,” a recent Pew Research Center report pointed out. “Just three sectors — leisure and hospitality, education and health services, and retail trade — accounted for 59% of the total loss in nonfarm jobs from February to May.”

If you are out of work and struggling financially, perhaps a program where you are hired to learn on the job is a way to find something new. So, I scrolled down to explore the “Apprenticeship” section. You can “learn while you earn.”

The first link is for the American Association of Community Colleges. Again, nothing new about community colleges playing a big role in training. But rather than a direct route to apprenticeship opportunities, you are taken to a page that merely lists community colleges nationwide. It’ll take some additional sleuthing to find any programs, some free, others requiring that you find an employer who will sponsor your apprenticeship.

Lockheed Martin lists nine apprenticeships. The engineering apprentice positions in Manassas, Va., look promising. Maybe you can still get in, although one posting was for 2019.

It’s not that Find SomethingNew.org isn’t useful. It just relies heavily on a rabbit hole of links to other websites. Navigating one’s way to actual training takes great patience.

Trump wants people to seek out new and innovative ways to find jobs. She should have taken her own advice.

Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1301 K St., N.W., Washington, DC 20071. Her email address is michelle.singletary@washpost.com.

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