Scott County

Job searches proved successful for these three

Jim Swinford, a customer service representative at the ACS call center in Lexington, talked to a health insurance customer. Swinford was unemployed for two years after being laid off from an automotive supplier.
Jim Swinford, a customer service representative at the ACS call center in Lexington, talked to a health insurance customer. Swinford was unemployed for two years after being laid off from an automotive supplier.

For those who have been unemployed during the economic downturn, finding a job has likely been a frustrating, exhausting, excruciating experience. Even as the economy has begun to sputter back to life, most job openings have seen a glut of applicants.

In last week's Herald-Leader, you learned of several of the companies across the Bluegrass that have begun hiring again or, in some cases, continued to hire throughout the downturn. Today, meet some of the re-employed who, through persistence, got the call they thought might never come.

ACS call came just in time

"I would not wish that on my worst enemy," Jim Swinford says of his two years being unemployed.

Swinford, now 58, was laid off in March 2008 from an automotive supplier, as the industry was in a downswing that led to bankruptcies of venerable names like General Motors and Chrysler.

Swinford had held industrial jobs for more than 35 years, including supervisory work for more than 13 of them. But he was in a field that was shrinking domestically before the recession, which just compounded the problem.

"The only saving grace was the unemployment extensions thanks to the government," Swinford recalled.

His extensions ran out, though, in early 2010. His retirement had been ravaged by the stock market's downturn — "It's about 20 percent of what it was in 2000" — so there wasn't much for him and his wife to rely upon.

Over the course of those two years, he says, he submitted more than 300 applications for everything from industrial jobs he was familiar with to night watchman to cashier at Thorntons, but they yielded just five interviews, all unsuccessful.

"I'm 58 years old. I understand people don't want to hire me. I'm old. I'm a detriment to companies because I'm going to cost you money on your health insurance," he said. "To ACS' credit, they are the only company to give me an opportunity. They never cared about my age."

His opportunity came last May when Swinford became one of 900 employees the outsourcer added in Lexington in 2010. He took a job fielding calls for the company, which handles operations like customer telephone support and document processing for other companies.

"They never cared about anything other than the fact that I was willing to come to work for them, be at the interview on time and start my training on the day I was supposed to start," he said. "That is a debt I can never repay to them.

"No one else would give me that opportunity."

While the pay may not have been what he was making before his layoff, the "job at ACS has allowed us to not have to sell the house or one of the cars, and we've been able to hang on to what we've got."

The job also came with health insurance.

"It's one thing to be unemployed and have the unemployment check coming. ... but if you don't have insurance, you can be bankrupted," he said.

Promotions came quickly at Kroger

In March 2009, Pamela Combs was six months into tough times with her husband and then 16-year-old son.

She had lost her retail job and was struggling to find a new one.

"I'd only had three jobs in my life," she recalled last week. "I didn't know what to do. I was lost."

Luckily, her husband was working at the time. "He pretty much carried us, but it was a struggle," she said.

Then the call came, not one, but three. In the same week, she was offered employment by Kroger, Wal-Mart and Meijer.

She chose to make sandwiches part-time at Kroger's deli inside its new MarketPlace store at Beaumont. Unlike a traditional grocery, the store offers more general merchandise like furniture and jewelry.

Within a couple of months, Combs was hired full-time in the deli.

"There are people who have been here five years that are still part-time," she said. "I didn't realize how fortunate I was to get that."

And her work continued to impress. The one-time out-of-work retail clerk would soon be chosen to manage the store's Starbucks location, which she has to this day.

"To me, it's been a good company to work for," she said of Kroger. "They're very supportive. I love my job, and I like dealing with the public."

Toyota temp became permanent

Perhaps no industry had more turmoil during the economic downturn than automotive. The term "Government Motors" was coined for the assistance given to keep General Motors afloat. Toyota, which saw sales drop like its rivals, later suffered a series of recalls that depressed revenue further.

During that time, though, the company avoided laying off its permanent workers. The same couldn't be said, though, for the temporary workers it employed. Temporary workers are common in the industry, as automakers use them to deal with fluctuations in demand.

Curtis Spence, 30, of Cynthiana had worked since 2006 as just such an employee at Toyota's sprawling Georgetown plant, its flagship North American facility.

He was let go for around three months during the downturn but later got the news he had hoped for since day one — he was hired last June as a permanent full-time worker.

Despite the downturn, Toyota continued to hire some of its temps to become permanent because of attrition, spokesman Rick Hesterberg said.

"Seeing that they didn't let any team members go, it gave us hope that once I became a team member our worries would be gone ..." Spence said of himself and his wife. "Just knowing that you have a job and are working for a company that takes care of its team members is just such a relief."

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader