Making the Best of It

Extreme measures worked out for jobless sign-carrier
Joshua Berger with his children, Kaden, 3, left, and Jazlyn, 2. Mail Tribune / Jim CravenJim Craven

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is part of a series on ways local residents are reinventing themselves in hard times.

Though it worked out in the end, Joshua Berger does not want to make a habit of job hunting on the busy streets of Medford.

With kids to feed, mortgage bills piling up and work prospects few and far between, Berger donned a sandwich board in March and took a spot along Highway 62 to advertise himself to potential employers.

The sign listed Berger's qualifications. He also handed out copies of his resume to anyone who asked.

"It was a tough time, that's for sure," Berger said. "But it might have worked out in the end."

Berger's efforts scored him a few interviews, and one of them led to a steady job at a manufacturing company. He works as a facilities manager at Microstein, a Central Point-based business that makes and ships disposable tubes used in hospital labs.

Berger resorted to wearing the sign after he was laid off from his job as an airplane mechanic at the Jet Center.

He spent the following months desperately looking for a job in the Medford area, but as the recession tightened its grip on the nation, he found it tough to land an interview.

He was not eligible for unemployment benefits because of his thin work history in recent years while he was attending Southern Oregon University full time.

Following an eight-year stint in the U.S. Marine Corps, Berger graduated from SOU last year with degrees in physics and chemistry. His focus was in engineering and medical services.

He exhausted his options in Southern Oregon and sent more than 100 resumes around the country, to no avail.

"They were looking for extremely high-qualified people," Berger said. "It was a tough job market for everyone."

By the time Berger got the idea to advertise himself along the highway, he was four months behind on his mortgage and bill collectors were hounding him several times a day.

He got the idea of wearing the sign to find work after reading about a New York man who used the strategy to land a job the previous year.

Jill Wilson, program manager at The Job Council in Medford, praised Berger's ingenuity and reminded job seekers there are several resources available in tough times.

"Short of breaking the law, there's no method of job searching we would discount," Wilson said. "It's important to remember that along with wearing a sign, be sure to use Internet resources and job centers."

He is not living the easy life, by any means, but Berger now is secure in his home after working with mortgage broker Donnie Dugan to rework his payments.

Berger said he was not looking for a handout that March day, just a chance to advertise his skills and detailed resume.

Berger is now able to provide for his two young girls, something he feared was not going to be possible 10 months ago.

"It looks like I will be able to keep my home," Berger said.

In addition to the manufacturing job, Berger is considering starting an alternative energy business with a fellow veteran he met that day along Highway 62.

"We are still in the early stages of planning, and I don't want to say much about it until it happens, but I do hope we can get some kind of business off the ground," Berger said.

Berger was humbled by his experience this year, but never gave up hope that good days were just around the corner.

"I've always been able to cope with things," Berger said. "Just like a lot of people, I had to find a way to make it this year."

He describes where he is now in his life as a complete "180" from that day along the highway.

"Things are looking up," he said. "Of course, I wish things were a little smoother, but that's life. As crazy as this year was, I can say I'm happy with the way it ended."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471; or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.


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