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Posted: March 16, 2009

Laid off? Head to camp

CSU grad founds LaidOffCamp conventions for job seekers

Dan Ray

In the midst of soaring unemployment, some jobseekers are finding unconventional forms of assistance or support. Consider LaidOffCamp – a primarily Internet-promoted support group – which may be just about as unconventional as it gets.

“It’s a community of everyone who doesn’t have a traditional job,” said LaidOffCamp founder and recent Colorado State University graduate Chris Hutchins. “The whole purpose is about building that community.”

LaidOffCamp organizes conferences for the recently laid-off or those struggling to make ends to share experiences, network and, perhaps, find new opportunities. And, given the state of the economy, its target audience is growing.

One year ago, 4.8 percent of Americans were jobless and seeking full-time work, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Last month, this number reached 8.6 percent, an increase of 4.7 million people – roughly the population of Detroit and Los Angeles combined – in just twelve months.
 
LaidOffCamp conventions, unlike a job fair, are not designed to simply bring employers and those seeking employment together. Instead, LaidOffCamp is intended to cultivate the resources available to those finding themselves without a regular paycheck from a regular company, Hutchins said.
 
The first LaidOffCamp meeting was held in San Francisco on March 3 and drew a crowd of more than 400 newly unemployed, startup entrepreneurs, freelancers and some employers. A second event took place in Dallas on March 6, and future meetings are planned to be in New York, Miami, Chicago, Fort Collins and Denver, Hutchins said.
 
Hutchins, 24, lost his job in December with the San Francisco office of the Monitor Group, where he worked as a consultant. One month later, while visiting a friend in Boulder, the idea for LaidOffCamp was born, he said.
 
 “I was having coffee with a friend named Andrew Hyde who was organizing Startup Weekend, which trains people to launch a startup in their free time,” Hutchins said. “I thought, ‘How can we take this to people who maybe have more time to spend?’”
 
After tossing around ideas of what could be useful for the recently laid-off over the winter, the result was LaidOffCamp, he said. “It puts together all of these different sessions with elements of a job fair and elements of a startup incubator combined,” Hutchins said.
 
In addition to the unconventional focus of the gathering, LaidOffCamp also has an unconventional structure. At the beginning of each LaidOffCamp topics for each of the sessions are suggested by attendees and then voted on. The  result is that anyone can lead a session about anything, as long as the topic generates enough interest.
 
The LaidOffCamp kickoff in San Francisco featured 36 lively sessions ranging from “resume 2.0” to discussions about the best health insurance, Hutchins said. “We had 50 to 60 speakers,” he said. “You don’t need to be an expert on anything, and it can be as informal as a discussion.”
 
Jeff Steinmetz, a freelance producer from San Francisco, attended the event after hearing about it from a friend and visiting its Facebook page.
 
“I worked for a startup a year and a half ago that didn’t work out,” he said. “Then I found I had to refocus my attention on my own production company.”
 
Steinmetz said LaidOffCamp presented a new way to get the word out about his company, Urge Productions.
 
“It’s just a different way of doing things,” he said. The sessions were useful, he said, but the most valuable part of LaidOffCamp was just the one-on-one visiting with others in similar situations.
 
 “It was just good to see what people thought and learn from them,” Steinmetz said.

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Dan Ray is a graduate student at the University of Colorado School of Journalism and Mass Communication. 

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