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Your Story: A retraining success, but not in the industry you’d expect

Jennifer Knightstep

Jennifer Knightstep was a researcher in the media archives at General Motors until she was laid off in 2008. Her first reaction was fear.

“I panicked for a few minutes, and then I tried to think of what I wanted to do next,” she says. “There’s not a big demand for archivists in Metro Detroit or anywhere else for that matter.”

So instead of trying to get a similar job, Knightstep decided to go in a new direction.

“I thought maybe I should start trying to do what I really wanted to do, which was be a writer.”

When she filed for unemployment, she learned about No Worker Left Behind, a program in Michigan that offered up to $10,000 in tuition for degrees in emerging industries. NWLB was scaled back in 2010 following federal funding cuts.

When most people think about growing fields, freelance writing is not the first job that comes to mind, but Knightstep made it work.

She went back to school and graduated with her associate’s degree in December 2011. She has been working as a freelance writer since November 2009.

“I figured education wouldn’t hurt in my quest to become a writer, so I took advantage of No Worker Left Behind and I started taking college classes,” says Knightstep.

“I had no idea what to expect. To be honest, I was really afraid…I expected to be the oldest person in the room and usually I wasn’t. I expected everything to be difficult and I expected to feel really strange, but it was wonderful, actually,” she says.

Knightstep is now self-employed.

“I’m a freelance writer slash reporter and photographer for a couple of local publications,” she says. ”Last year I finished my first book…and right now I am working on a story for the society of automotive engineers in Detroit.”

For the newly unemployed, she offers this advice: “Take advantage of whatever programs [you] can and be bold from the beginning. The only regret I have is that I spent that couple of weeks being fearful, being timid. I wonder how different things would have been if I was intrepid and bold from the start.”

This story was informed by the Public Insight Network. If you want to learn how to be a part of our network, click here.

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