Reaching out to the unemployed

Laid-off network professionals are hurting. They are often scorned or ridiculed by people outside the technology sector, scapegoats for the high-tech downturn.

Worse, former colleagues and employers often ignore them. Guilt mixed with fear that the laid-off workers are angry (which many are) underscores anxiety that somehow their bad luck will rub off.

These people are caught between a rock and a hard place. Finding little or no work, they worry. And along with others who have lost their jobs, they sometimes lose their homes and suffer from depression.

So what is my point? Simply, I think technology firms and IT/networking shops should do more to help. There is potential to do a great deal of good, helping former colleagues to learn, network and most importantly, feel less isolated.

There is precedence for this idea. For example, consider the open source community, where sharing and good will is at the core of an overall philosophy. Those with knowledge, experience or tools help others to understand or set up systems and applications. Everyone involved increases their knowledge, and gains confidence and a sense of community.

In the same spirit, network technology companies should share knowledge with laid-off workers to help them stay current and remain in touch. Using e-mail, seminars and the Web, they could share information on developing technology, new products and trends.

As an act of good will, this could go a long way toward helping laid-off workers feel they have not been completely forgotten. It also could help spread the sponsoring firm’s technology and product message. Finally, it could help those out of work remain somewhat current, so they can more easily re-enter the workforce.

For IT/networking shops, I would go even further. Networking staffs are overburdened, with no time to attend to nonessential tasks. If there is no budget for help, perhaps laid-off networking staff could do some of the work, in exchange for knowledge and experience.

Of course, for this to work, both parties would have to know what is expected and agree to it, preferably in a memo of understanding. There should be no false hints of employment or long-term commitments. There might be waivers to sign or security checks to complete. Still, such issues are easily resolved and should not stand in the way of the potential gain.

Is this altruistic? Yes, mostly. Is it out of touch with corporate (especially financial) strategies? Yes, probably. As most companies and IT/networking shops struggle to address immediate needs and to improve the bottom line, there is little time or energy to think ahead or try something new.

In addition to achieving business success, many of us want to do something to make the world a better place. If we forget the ledgers and problem reports for a bit, we might find that this is our chance.