Ex-Target workers mix hope, networking after headquarters cuts

Jenny Ness with her children
Jenny Ness spent time with her children Aelaide Ness, 7, Kellen Ness, 5, at their Maple Grove, Minn. home Thursday, June 11, 2015. Ness was laid off from Target three months ago after 12 years with the company, and she is currently looking for employment.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News

When Target announced in January it was pulling out of Canada, Bonnie Kemp started putting out resumes even before her layoff notice came.

Just four years out of the University of Wisconsin, Kemp was a buyer for the retailer's Canadian stores. She figured she was lucky to be let go in February with some 550 co-workers. Target later sent another 1,700 employees flooding into the job market as part of a broader, massive corporate restructuring intended to save the company $2 billion.

Former Target employee Bonnie Kemp
Bonnie Kemp, photographed Wednesday, June 10, 2015 in downtown Minneapolis, was laid off from her job at Target, but she quickly found a new job as a project manager at SPS Commerce.
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News

Within a month, Kemp landed a job. A recruiter found her on LinkedIn and connected her with SPS Commerce, which makes software for retailers and liked Kemp's retail experience. She says she felt fortunate the economy was in fairly good shape and the scope of the Target job cuts made it clear that the layoffs were nothing personal.

"It wasn't anything to do with performance," she said. "It was purely, 'You're in this role, you're gone.' I think in some ways it made it easier to bounce back."

Grow the Future of Public Media

MPR News is Member supported public media. Show your support today, donate, and ensure access to local news and in-depth conversations for everyone.

The 2,400 layoffs so far this year were a major bloodletting by a company where dramatic downsizing has been rare. Some, like Kemp, have rebounded nicely. Others continue to tap social media networks of former Target employees, seeking job leads and sometimes solace.

Kemp says many of her Target friends have landed new gigs or have feelers out on new positions. In some cases, however, it's requiring people to make major career and life changes.

"Moving out of state," she said. "I have friends who are now moving abroad. If anything it's a kind of time for people to take a pause and find out what they're truly wanting to do. I'd say that's a big trend."

Among those still figuring out what to do is Jenny Ness. She joined Target in 2004 after graduating from the University of Minnesota. She was laid off in March from her job as a quality assurance manager, responsible for making sure products meet safety and customer expectations.

Playing a board game
Ness played a board game with her children at home. She said there was no ill will after the layoff and said she understood why Target eliminated staff.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News

After she gets her two children, ages 5 and 7, started on their days, she gets to work looking for work.

"You just start talking to people and letting people know you're out there looking and you do and want to do next and hope that you get connected to the right people," she said.

Social networks, including LinkedIn and Facebook have been especially helpful, she added. There are more than 5,000 people on a Facebook group focused on helping laid-off Target employees get their careers back on track. The group includes recruiters, as well as Target employees who survived the cuts and others who want to help job hunters.

At first, the group provided a place where people could commiserate and console each other.

Now, though, "there are a lot more postings of, 'I'm happy to announce that I've accepted a position' as opposed 'Hard to get out of bed today' posts," Ness said. "If a recruiter calls one person and it's not their cup of tea, then they post it."

Ness says former Target workers have felt truly wanted and confident. Recruiters from Amazon, the Gap, Kohl's and other companies swept in after the layoffs to woo workers Target jettisoned.

Meanwhile, Target has provided severance packages and outplacement services that include career counseling and guidance in refining resumes and sharpening social media skills.

"I found it really helpful," she said.

Jason Schultz had 23 years with Target, starting off on the sales floor and ending up as manager of the team produced the weekly sales flier for the Canadian stores. Until this past February.

"We kind of felt Target was protected and they tried to avoid layoffs at all costs," he said. "It's just a fact of life these days."

Schultz is now refining his job search skills and connecting with people who could help him secure a new position that combines sales and marketing.

"With all the experiences that Target gave me over the years, I just know there's a lot of value in what I've done and who I've become," he said.

Employees caught in the cuts readily share tips and job leads as they figure out what they should do, he added.

"Everybody's kind of in a different place. Some people took some time and said, 'I'm just going to focus on myself for a while and then really focus on what I'm looking for.' Some people went head-first into it and found jobs fairly quickly."

There's no precise measure of how well Target's laid-off workers are doing in the aggregate.

Most who were laid off this year have not sought help from the state's dislocated worker program. Only 335 as of April have signed up so far.

Anthony Alongi, who directs the program, says it's fair to assume a few hundred were in or approaching their 60s and simply retired. Others may be taking a break, living on severance payments until they decide what to do. But Alongi expects most have another job or will soon.

"We do believe that they either are OK right now or they will be OK, either because they're OK on their own or we're helping them," Alongi said. "These Target workers are usually very highly skilled professionals and we are in an overall good economy."

Alongi says the dislocated worker program helped about 170 Target employees laid off last year. Most of them left the program with additional credentials and education and found jobs paying an average of nearly $36 an hour.

It'll be a few months before the state could try to roughly divine how many of the retailer's former employees have found work, based on employment records and unemployment claims. That estimate would be skewed, though, for instance, by folks who've decided to retire or move to other states.

But Steve Hine, an economist with the Department of Employment and Economic Development, expects the numbers will look good.

"I expect that when we do have the data available to us to look to see whether we can identify what kind of employment outcomes those people experience that it might well be a very positive picture," he said.