From Carson's to a new career

Susan Northrup worked as a salesperson at the Carson Pirie Scott's Yorktown department store for 40 years, almost her entire adult life. Except for a brief stint as an office receptionist, she had dedicated her career to the former retail giant.

And then she lost her job.

When Bon-Ton, Carson's corporate parent declared bankruptcy in 2018, and eventually shuttered its doors in 2019, Susan was one of 3,500 employees left with an uncertain future. Not yet able to retire, dreams of returning to an office environment surfaced. Detractors reasoned her skills were out of date. With the help of the workNet DuPage Career Center, she didn't listen.

In 1988, a federal law known as the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act ("WARN Act") passed. This legislation, designed to protect employees and communities, requires employers notify local government in advance of mass layoffs. When such notifications occur in DuPage County, a workNet DuPage Career Center rapid response specialist meets on-site with employees to share information about available support services, including job search workshops and possible training grants, up-to $10,000.

"I knew nothing about workNet's services." said Susan. "I first learned about the program when they came to speak at Carson's. My boss told me to go for it. I didn't realize there was such help out there. After all, I had never lost a job before."

Thanks to a federal grant, Susan was able to enroll in The Office Technology Information program at the College of DuPage (COD). Her grant covered the entire cost of an Administrative Assistant and Meeting/Event Planning certificate, one of several programs available through COD. She first learned she was approved for the grant on a Friday and began classes on Monday.

This COD track enabled Susan to acquire the technology skills necessary to attract prospective employers. In the midst of her studies - before she even completed the program - Susan landed a job as a customer service representative at the Village of Carol Stream, earning even more than she made at Carson's. Her well-established soft skills and newly acquired technical proficiency made her a strong fit.

"It wasn't just the classes at COD that helped me," says Susan. "If it weren't for workNet's Bootcamp, I never would have stepped out of my comfort zone." Susan attributes her success to three specific tips: Network, Make Yourself Stand Out, and Follow-Up.

She believes the third bit of advice was particularly critical.

"Had I not followed up at least two or three times, I may not have landed the job."

Before the workshop, Susan assumed if a company was interested in hiring her they would be the ones to reach out. Boot Camp challenged such assumptions and provided her with greater understanding of the hiring process.

"Now that I have a job, people ask me, are you going to continue with the program?" She never hesitates to respond. "I don't want to lose this opportunity to earn the certificate. Who knows, I might go even further."

Susan never went to college. Now with newfound confidence, she doesn't rule out the possibility.

In answer to the question: Would you recommend the workNet DuPage Career Center to a good friend? Susan answers, "Definitely, I would tell them exactly how much the program helped me and if I hadn't enrolled, it would have taken me a lot longer to find a job."

The workNet DuPage Career Center assists unemployed and underemployed individuals in DuPage County build or advance their careers by connecting them to job resources, services, education and training. workNet DuPage's programs and services are funded through the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA); there is no cost to jobseekers.

The Center also assists DuPage County businesses with workforce training grants, recruiting assistance, and support services for workers being laid off. With record low unemployment in DuPage County, workNet DuPage focused on upskilling the existing workforce last year by awarding local employers nearly $400,000 in Incumbent Worker training grants - an unprecedented amount.

For more information, call (630) 955-2067, email, visit or visit in person at 2525 Cabot Drive, Suite 302, in Lisle.

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.