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White Collar2 Blue Collar Ex Mlt Dwn*

September 10, 2001


Software Consultant Finds

A New Life Pounding Nails



A few months ago, Dale Gogates was a computer software consultant earning $80,000 a year working with International Business Machines Corp. Today he is a construction worker who repairs and remodels homes. He expects to make $40,000 his first year on the job.

Do you know someone who's been out of work for an unexpectedly long time? Participate in the Question of the Day.

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In May, IBM terminated Mr. Gogate's consulting contract after a seven-year association with him, citing economic conditions. He thought finding a new job in his field -- systems engineering -- would be a snap. It wasn't.

IBM colleagues couldn't offer any leads. He scrupulously searched online job boards and newspaper ads. He sent out résumés -- and hardly received a response. Companies appeared mostly interested in hiring younger, inexperienced applicants for lower-paying jobs.

After six weeks of hapless searching, Mr. Gogates, 42 years old, decided to change course -- radically. He hooked up with a friend, Tony House, who was running House Calls of Austin, a year-old home remodeling and repair business in Austin, Texas. Mr. Gogates had some experience in the field; he grew up repairing homes with his father. "But it wasn't the career transition I originally had in mind," he says.

Mr. Gogates, who holds an engineering degree from Michigan State University, is one of an unusually large number of well-educated, highly-skilled workers who have, until very recently, borne the brunt of the economic slowdown. Though new statistics show the rate of job losses among low-skilled, low-educated workers is starting to accelerate, white-collar professionals like Mr. Gogates have found themselves in the unfamiliar position of fruitless job hunting. Some, like Mr. Gogates, are turning blue collar.

Though the slowing economy cut short Mr.Gogates's IBM contract, it's helping his new employer thrive. Many Austin homeowners are fixing up their houses instead of selling them. "There's a pent-up demand for moderately-priced remodeling and that's what we do," says Mr. Gogates.

Since he went to work for House Calls in June, Mr. Gogates has mastered such unfamiliar skills as building shower pans out of concrete. He says he's happier working on homes than he was at IBM, where he didn't always see the results of his efforts.

But with his annual earnings cut in half, he's had to make some lifestyle adjustments. He used to go out to eat four nights a week. Now he only dines out on Fridays and some Saturdays. He orders one frozen margarita instead of two. He used to leave his computer on all the time. Now he turns it off when he's not using it, to save on electricity. He got rid of his second phone line.

Mr. Gogates, who is single, is giving himself a year to help make House Calls a success. If it doesn't happen, he says, he'll consider opening up a hardware store or going back into the high-tech world.

Write to Kemba Dunham at kemba.dunham@wsj.com

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