UCI Program Helps Women Move Ahead

Times Staff Writer

Just three years ago, Rhonda Hager was writing copy for an Orange County advertising agency when she decided she wanted to change careers. But when Hager, 36, tried to get a management job in hotel marketing, she found that hotels were not impressed with her bachelor's degree in English.

She was told by those doing the hiring that she would have to return to school to get a master's degree in business administration (MBA). Usually, that means two years of study.

But Hager found a faster way to make the career change she wanted. In January, 1983, she enrolled in the Managerial Skills Internship Program for Women at UC Irvine.

The program, which is sponsored by the Women's Opportunities Center, can be completed in one year.

And the $1,500 fee is less than the cost of getting an MBA at any of the five universities in Orange County offering the degree. According to spokesmen at those universities, the cost of completing an MBA program in Orange County ranges from a low of $2,766 at UC Irvine to a high of $14,160 at Pepperdine University's Irvine campus.

Spokesmen for UC Irvine, Pepperdine, Cal State Fullerton, Chapman College in Orange and National University in Irvine said the Managerial Skills program is the only certificate program in Orange County that combines course work in management with hands-on internships.

(Although it doesn't have an internship component, a somewhat similar program is offered by Chapman College. Chapman's nine-month certificate program in human resources and development offers courses in personnel, labor law, consulting and how to train employees, a college spokesman said.

(A certificate program requires a person to take enough courses so that he or she is trained in the practical, day-to-day skills needed to perform a certain job. In contrast, a bachelor's or master's degree program provides not only training but also theoretical study, according to Michael Feuers, director of the UCI Extension Program's department of management and business.)

The Managerial Skills program also is unique because, unlike local job placement programs for women, it is geared just for women seeking white collar positions at pre-professional or management levels, said Joan Schwartz, one of the UCI program's administrators.

Managerial Skills graduates such as Hager say the program is meeting its goals. The Anaheim resident noted that without going to business school, she was able to obtain her present position as sales manager for two upscale hotels that will open this spring and specialize in serving business travelers. Hager said she has been busy since last October obtaining commitments from clients to use the hotels, which are in Santa Ana near the John Wayne Airport.

Highly Competitive Market

Noting the highly competitive nature of Orange County's hotel market, Hager said she is kept on her toes developing strategies such as bargain group rates to convince companies, travel agencies and business associations to use her hotels' facilities.

Although the two internships Hager obtained through the Managerial Skills program were not in the hotel field, she said she still gained experience in sales that helped her break into hotel management. Within a month of her graduation in March, 1984, Hager said the program's credentials, along with the skills she had picked up, enabled her to land a job at a Buena Park hotel, first as a sales representative, then as sales manager. In January, 1985, Hager was offered more responsibility in a job at a Fullerton hotel, where she worked until being recruited last October for her present post.

"I love the challenge of keeping a hotel's rooms full," Hager said.

Hager is one of the approximately 15 women annually who have enrolled in the Managerial Skills program since it began in 1981, Schwartz said.

(An orientation meeting for the next Managerial Skills session is to be arranged, and further information is available by calling (714) 856-7131 or (714) 856-7128 )

Also Serves Homemakers

The program serves not only working women who want to change careers or move into management but also homemakers who want to return to work after taking several years off to raise children. Many of these women, usually in their mid-30s or older, feel they don't have the time or patience to pursue a MBA, Schwartz said.

"We have a lot of present or former teachers who want to get into something else," Schwartz said. "But they've been told by prospective employers that they can't be considered for the job they want because they need courses in management, accounting and business writing. So they come to us."

"Some working women without bachelor's degrees," Schwartz continued, "have been told by their employers that because of their outstanding work records they would like to see them move up to supervisory positions, but they need to complete a certificate-granting university program like ours. Credentials do make a difference in the work place when it comes to promotions."

The impetus for establishing Managerial Skills in 1981, Schwartz said, was that while more women are entering the business world, the number of women in management positions still lags behind the number of men.

Women hold 41% of managerial or professional jobs, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report released last fall. More striking, according to the census report, is the wage gap for professional occupations. The median annual salary for men is $29,550; for women, it's $19,200.

Difficult to Change

"It's very difficult for women like this to change careers because of their educational backgrounds," said Dan Beals, director of personnel for the Irvine Co., which has provided internships for Managerial Skills participants, one of whom is now a personnel administrator.

"The people they're competing against for job openings usually have MBA's, or at least have a bachelor's degree in business," Beals said. "So the competition's tough, and an employer usually wouldn't even consider them as job candidates, no matter how bright they are or how well they've done in their other jobs."

Both Beals and Pat Schuler, vice president of Mercury Savings & Loan Assn., said the Managerial Skills certificate has helped convince them to hire women they otherwise would not have considered. "I know that once the women have completed this program, they have the solid kinds of abilities we are looking for in this industry," Schuler said.

Beals added: "That's why the focus of the UCI program on management skills is right on track; its emphasis on business skills gives the woman who wants to change careers at least a fighting chance of having her resume seriously considered by an employer.

"But the best part of the program is the internship. Ultimately, the decision on whether you hire someone really comes down to your chemistry with them and their personality.

"What the internship does is that it lets the employer get a real life look at how one of these employees would hold up on the job. We have a (Managerial Skills graduate) on our staff who we might not have considered (for permanent employment) without her having had an internship with us."

To qualify participants for serious consideration by employers, Managerial Skills offers management courses, which are held at night, on Saturdays or late in the day to fit the schedules of working women, said Joan Klubnik, the program's academic coordinator.

Networking seminars are held throughout the year. They cover such topics as women in management, job search techniques, interviewing, resume writing, time management, how to dress for success and appropriate levels of assertiveness.

Networking Seen Important

"From a psychological standpoint, I think the networking is the most potent part of the program," Klubnik said. "It's not unique to females, but the most stressful thing in life--after experiencing the death of a loved one and divorce--is changing jobs. You're afraid you're not making the right choice--that you're going to fail in your new job.

"By having the Managerial Skills women meet together on a regular basis," Klubnik said, "this reinforces the idea that they are not alone in what they are attempting to do."

To build specific occupational skills sought by prospective employers, participants take regular UCI courses in such specialized fields as public relations, sales, accounting and computer programming.

"These are the kinds of courses you need to have if you want to get a management position in industry," Klubnik said. Klubnik, who has a doctorate in education, has a special insight in this area because she oversees career development for more than 500 employees in the information systems division of Transamerica Occidental Life Insurance Co. in Los Angeles.

The Managerial Skills program's job internships, usually requiring 20 hours a week, last from three to six months with both public and private employers, internship coordinator Schwartz said. Positions are paid or volunteer, depending on the employer's resources.

Special internship arrangements are made for working women. For example, the program helps them arrange paid leaves from their present jobs. Where this is not possible, a special project that doesn't require the participant to leave her job during the day is designed by Schwartz.

While the program is relatively small, graduates said it has made a big difference in their lives. Haydee Prieto used Managerial Skills to make the transition from a job as a university librarian to her present position as a personnel department administrator at the Irvine Co.

Prieto, 36, was in charge of automating the card catalogue system at the main library at UCI when she enrolled in the Managerial Skills program in January, 1983.

"I had nothing against the job, but I felt that if I stayed with the library it was going to restrict my mobility," recalled Prieto, who had been working there for four years. "How many research libraries are there? I felt I would always have to stay attached to a university setting."

Enrolled in Courses

Prieto, who already had a master's degree in educational technology, took Managerial Skills courses in personnel management because she said she wanted to enter a people- and service-oriented field.

In January, 1984, she landed a paid internship in the personnel department of the Irvine Co. and quit her job at the library.

"I knew what I was doing was risky because there was no assurance that I would end up with a permanent job with the Irvine Co.," recalled Prieto. "But I thought it was the best time to make a career change. The program had given me enough confidence that I believed I could find a job someplace else if the one at the Irvine Co. didn't work out."

Prieto did so well on the projects she was given--including a study comparing the wages and benefits of the Irvine Co.'s field workers with those of other employees in the state--that she was hired for a full-time position at the Irvine Co. in October, 1984.

Today, Prieto, who lives in Irvine with her husband and two children, is a personnel department administrator who helps Irvine Co. employees with compensation and benefits problems.

"I'm glad I changed careers," Prieto said. "It's opened up more possibilities for upward mobility. I feel real positive about the future. I just wish more women would take the risk I did."

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