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Working It: Tough Tales From Nashville


Most of us know someone who's had a hard time finding or keeping a job over the past few years. It's an experience that often leaves people defeated and demoralized. Today, we introduce a new series of audio portraits - people in their daily lives describing their experiences. It's called Working It, and we begin with Jesse Rhew of Nashville, Tennessee. He's 29 years old and he holds two degrees - one in electrical engineering and he has an MBA. Still, that didn't protect him from a round of layoffs at a large energy company last spring. These days, he makes ends meet by fixing old amplifiers.

JESSE RHEW: When I was a kid, there was this video of me coming home on the first day of school, I think this was, like, first grade. I had acid washed stretch-to-fit jeans. And my dad asked me in this home video what I want to be when I grow up, and I say a robot scientist.


BARRY GORDON: (as Donatello) My name is Donatello...


RHEW: Oh, I definitely know that Donatello was my favorite Ninja Turtle.


GORDON: (as Donatello) I started building my own toys when I was just a little hatchling.


RHEW: I always wanted to do something nerdy and cool like that. So, you know, science and engineering was always something that I wanted to do when I grew up. So, I'm living the dream, except, you know, not really because I need a job.


RHEW: In school, my emphasis was in digital design, microprocessor architecture, super-cool nerdy stuff like that. Obviously, it's very marketable. And right as soon as I graduated, that's when everything comes to a head and it becomes clear that we're headed into a recession. And it was just real dumb luck. You know, I thought having this degree would guarantee me a job pretty much constantly. It was a big lesson because, you know, I'm never going to trust a single source of income again.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Where do you want me to set this?

RHEW: Oh, my. Yeah, this thing is old. And now I fix guitar amplifiers for a little supplemental income. This was the first amp that I ever built. And this is a sort of a Frankenstein-looking Stratocaster that I built. I have these little robot brains that you can see through the pick guard - this little circuit board inside there. We'll see if that'll actually end up working.


RHEW: I try not to worry about the economy or anything that I can't control. But I think that it has shaped the way that I think about my job search and definitely the way I think about how I get money and how I make a living.


RHEW: Yeah, I'm pretty good with money. I've never been in debt before. I went to school on scholarships, so I'm still living off of my savings since I've got laid off in April. But I'm starting to get to the point where, all right, the pressure's on. Maybe I need to be doing something else.


RHEW: Being an engineer helped me come up with systems for, you know, money, systems for my job hunt. So, I have piles of notes, as you can tell, and I have spreadsheets with names and contacts. And this is all a system that I found through my job coach at FindYourDreamJob.com. And I'm an interviewing beast now.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: And the number one barrier to finding a dream job, it's very simple: I have no idea what my dream job is.

RHEW: Yeah. I don't really know what my calling is.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Why is it so hard to find this out?

RHEW: You know, younger people, maybe we're not jaded yet and we still are a little bit hopeful that we can find a great job that we love.


RHEW: I think that's not going to happen for the vast majority of people but I think that it will happen for me, 'cause I'm a special snowflake.


MARTIN: That's Jesse Rhew of Nashville, Tennessee.


MARTIN: Next week, we meet Graham Gray(ph). She's a mother of two who's had her share of ups and downs in the past year.

GRAHAM GRAY: Lost my job in April and then actively looked throughout the summer and then found a job and was really stoked about the job. It seemed like a great opportunity.

MARTIN: We'll hear her story next Sunday. Our series Working It is produced by Kim Green. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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