IN the year leading up to his layoff from Lockheed Corporation, 13-year tooling supervisor Tony Gervasi was repeatedly told that defense cutbacks would not jeopardize his job.
Then he was given four weeks notice and had to fight for a minimal severance package before unemployment checks of $210 a week replaced his $702 weekly salary. Quick surveys of other aerospace companies in the area, including McDonnell Douglas and Northrop, showed that his expertise was no longer needed.
Jobs that were available would have meant a drop in pay by three-quarters.
"It was really a big shock, because management kept assuring us it wouldn't happen," says Mr. Gervasi.
"My life is on hold until I find work," he says, noting that he and his wife Carol, a real estate agent, have put off having children. "It has put a tremendous strain on my marriage."
The local employment office told Mr. Gervasi he had three strikes against him in the current job market: 1) he lived in California which is experiencing serious business flight; 2) he lived in Los Angeles county, the hardest hit region of the state; 3) he was a middle-class, middle-aged, white male.
"They told me the best idea was to go into business for myself," says Gervasi. "So I am."
After spending a lot of time doing research at a local job center, Gervasi chose a field that fit both his talent and temperament - and wasn't in danger of extinction: air conditioning.
From eight to 12 every morning, and two nights a week, Gervasi is training to repair and maintain heating and cooling units in both homes and businesses.
Three semesters of training by a government-run training program (costing him about $45 per semester) will give Gervasi the needed certification.
When the coursework is finished, he hopes to find a training position with an established firm until he can split off on his own - or perhaps join his younger brother, already in the business.
The appeal is a complete change of life from being an employee to having self-sufficiency - encompassing different responsibilities but far more freedom.
"I'm excited about going into a new field," he says, recounting a career path where hustle has always shot him into positions of management.
"The challenges are all different, the rewards more personal and my contribution will be more my own. I'll be the one reaping the rewards of my own hustling and I won't have to worry whether or not someone else is going to tell me the company is going to fold."