Profile: JD Galvin, IT worker

Thursday, March 10th, 2011 

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JD Galvin studied substance abuse counseling and began his working life in human services.  He switched to IT in 2000, and was laid off two years ago.  He's now active in the 99ers movement, an effort to organize people who have exhausted unemployment benefits. He spoke with Workshop reporter Kat Aaron from his home in McHenry County, Illinois. Below is an edited excerpt of their conversation.

I went and got my IT certification and within a couple of months, I had a job in downtown Chicago.  My first gig was a temporary gig, of course, and I was making more money than I ever had with six years of college.
JD Galvin
Then I picked up a job that summer with the school district for about three years.  I jumped shipped looking for the brass ring: better benefits, better pay. I got pushed out by a 20-plus year old eventually. 

You’ve been out of work for almost two years. Was it always hard to find work?

It never seemed to be a problem.  If you were an IT, you were catching jobs 3 to 6 months out.  IT people never stayed in jobs for that long in the first place. There was always a better job out there to get.  If you stayed too long in a job, people would ask why, why your skills weren’t progressing. 

How do you think outsourcing affected the IT sector?

Overseas outsourcing had a lot to do with help desk kinds of things, call centers.  Guys like me, we’re starting to get outsourced to a consulting firm.  Consulting firms would come in and say that your stuff is all screwed up, let us bring in our people and fix it for you.

If they can rotate people in and out of there, they don’t have to be full time, and it’s cost effective. 

How long have you been out of work?

I’ve been out for over two years now, out of full-time work.  I get maybe a couple hours here and there.  I got a call today for a job, moving a server from one thing to another.  It’ll take me a couple of hours.  They don’t want a full time IT person on the site.  Those are jobs that pay.

The last place I was pushed out of, I was their first full-time person on the job.  They had a consultant before that.  When they decided that they were going to get rid of the full-time person, they brought him back into the mix.  That way the overhead wasn’t there. 

Companies don’t want to hire full time.  They want to keep that overhead down.  They want to see how much they can get away with, with their IT.  Some companies will go years without upgrading.  If something does screw up, you bring in your brother-in-law, who’s taken a couple of courses at the community college.  Nobody wants to pay somebody to be on call, either. 

I don’t know what the ultimate answer is.  Before that, I’ll probably be living in a box.  I’m foreclosed, I’m losing my car.  People say how can that be happening?  Well, it is.

I could maybe take a job at minimum wages, but then I’m just paying insurance and car payments and not getting anywhere. 

There are people who are worse off than me who have no idea what it’s like living on welfare or getting food stamps.  They’re like, ‘Oh my god, I can’t do this.’  I say, ‘No, it’s not the end of the world.  And don’t feel one bit guilty.  You’re just taking your turn on the barrel right now.  This is not going be a forever thing for you.  If you need help, you need help.”  Trying to get that to some people who were making $60,000, $100,000 a year – these aren’t people who can’t hold a job.  They held jobs, they held good jobs. 

If you look and see how long we’ve been out of work, in reality there needs to be a long-term solution.

What do you think that looks like?

Invest in your own people by having more training programs that are affordable to people who are out of work or looking to change a career. If the horseshoe guy is phasing out, he should be able to get a subsidy to retrain for a job that is more marketable. Our infrastructure is falling apart.  We need to train people to do those jobs.  Fix bridges, engineering, fix roads.

In Germany, people are on unemployment benefits until they find work.  It’s something to keep them from going completely under.  Can we afford that?  If we started knocking out overseas money, knocking out the corporate bailouts, yeah, maybe.

What about incentives for people in skilled areas to mentor people, give companies incentives for bringing on apprentices?  Things that can keep the American worker working and benefit the country as a whole.

Do you think retraining people is really going to work?  It seems like sometimes people get trained for jobs that aren’t really there.

This county here went from agriculture to small industry, and they would kind of train you for that.  But when you have an area that’s being zapped of production, they’re trying to train you for the same jobs.  It’s like, ‘No, they’re gone!’  They’re not doing a good assessment of the jobs that are available, for when people are being retrained. You get to the point where you can’t afford to move.  People say, look towards the city.  You’ve seen how much it costs to live in the city. 

What do the next few months look like for you?

We’re living on the edge.  We talked to an attorney today. He says hold fast.  Nobody has put an offer on our house.  When they do, we’ll file for bankruptcy.  We’ll walk away from the rest, although we have nowhere to go. 

I’m still looking for jobs.  I’m doing jobs on the side.  I look for work.  I’m trying to figure out one meal to the next.  There’s no lazy about it.

I’m going to be writing more, trying some radio work.  I’m trying all different avenues.  I always claim myself as a shameless marketer.  I’ll market myself as many ways as possible.  

I think in a way, without this all happening, I wouldn’t have even attempted broadcasting or anything like that.  Maybe that’s a positive flicker there.  Instead of running around screaming, trying to pull out whatever hair I have left out. 

If you had the chance to do it again, would you still pursue IT?

What I wanted to do was the more creative side of tech, the web programming.  I still love that, but I got stuck doing the internal structure stuff.  I love IT.  It’s something I really do enjoy.  I have ADD, and IT is perfect for guys like that.  You constantly have to learn stuff.   I think that’s good for me.  I think I probably would have done it but gone more the creative design area.  I think IT is great.  It’s limitless what we can do.  As we learn more, I’m still amazed at what we’ve done.  I want to be around another 100 years to see where tech goes. 

I wish I could make a living at it like I used to.

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