Faces of The Fund: Q & A with John Mattson
A fairly recent addition to The Actors Fund’s Los Angeles office, John comes to us with a wealth of experience and energy, and a commitment to helping those in the entertainment industry find fulfilling sideline and parallel work. He recently talked to us about AWP’s latest initiatives, as well as trends our team is seeing in the services AWP provides.
AF: What new trends are you seeing with your participants out in AWP-LA?
John: In the past six months, since joining The Actors Fund in LA, I have had individual career counseling appointments with over 150 participants. Everyone has a unique story and faces a variety of different challenges; however, there is one major trend that I have noticed — which seems to be quite common in entertainment — and that is the volatility of the industry is such that no one can take for granted how long they will have work, in any given year. Projects and pilots come and go, series are cancelled, auditions conflict with other commitments, and a weak U.S. economy can play havoc not only with the entertainment industry but also the many sideline industries our folks use between gigs to support their income.
Given these challenges, AWP advises that everyone needs to be able to manage several career tracks simultaneously; in other words, to have multiple parallel careers and options available — especially when jobs in entertainment are not always predictable or sustainable.
In addition, many jobs these days are requiring candidates to have a Bachelor’s degree, which wasn’t the case ten years ago. While many participants have a Bachelor’s — and some have their Master’s degree — many have not completed their Bachelor’s or Associate’s degree. For those people who would like to complete a degree, we are suggesting they look into community colleges, which are affordable and conveniently located throughout greater LA. Also, we recommend that people consider working for a college in some kind of administrative capacity, as most universities will allow employees to take coursework and earn a degree for free.
Tell us about some new initiatives of AWP-LA.
We are offering a new workshop called Career Assessment, which has received great reviews from participants; there is a month-long wait to attend the workshop as it has become so popular.
We have also partnered with the Screen Actors Guild Foundation to co-sponsor career events. In June, we featured four speakers for a panel presentation called Success Stories: Navigating Parallel Career Tracks. Over 70 participants attended this event, which showcased an actor who also manages a communications consulting firm, a former entertainment professional who is now director of education and public programs for a leading museum in LA, an actor who also owns his own catering business, and a digital film instructor who previously was a cinematographer.
We will also be doing two other events in the fall and winter with the SAG Foundation; one will be on Educational Opportunities and the other on Starting a Small Business.
This winter and spring we partnered with the LA Unified School District’s Westside Education & Career Center – a division of Adult Education — that offered computer classes in LA and Burbank in order to get our participants job-ready with computer literacy skills. Thus far, a total of 58 students have completed certificates of competency. The courses will be offered again this fall, winter, and spring and will allow us to provide training to up to 150 people per year.
What are some general trends in the job market that you are currently seeing?
Unfortunately, the U.S. economy seems to have stalled in the first half of this year and the Federal Reserve states that a weak economy — coupled with the recent U.S. debt crisis — will negatively impact job growth for the remainder of the year.
However, many economists have predicted that the second half of 2011 will be better for employment than the first half was. This past December, the unemployment rate in Los Angeles reached an all time high of 13%, and that picture has somewhat improved. TV and movie production is up slightly over last year; however, many AWP participants state that it continues to be a very tough job market in entertainment in LA. I believe the many services provided by AWP — especially workshops and individual career counseling — are making people much more competitive in the LA job market.
I also remind participants not to feel overwhelmed by the unemployment statistics — after all, they are only looking for one job for themselves, and each week there are thousands of new positions listed.
What would you tell a potential participant who may be hesitant about coming to AWP for counseling?
I would say that looking for work is a lot like being on set, in that it takes a lot of different people working together and supporting each other to get the job done. AWP is not just about building the skills you need, but finding that support and building those networks that are so critical to success.
Potential participants should attend The Actors Fund orientation to learn about all of our services and to obtain an individual appointment for career counseling, if they wish. At orientation, we talk about the various workshops that AWP offers as well as our other services. I think once people go through orientation, and they hear the “stories” of the other participants, they realize that they are not alone. They often leave with a hopeful outlook and with concrete information, along with next-steps to pursue.
How is working with entertainment professionals seeking parallel or alternate careers different from other career counseling that you have done?
I have over 30 years of experience providing career counseling to clients ranging from college students to senior executives. Prior to moving to LA, I worked at The Wharton School’s Executive MBA Program in San Francisco. The major difference at The Actors Fund is that everyone I see comes from some sector of the entertainment industry, whereas at Wharton most executive MBA students came from high-tech, finance, and manufacturing fields.
In general, career counseling is the same, no matter who you are advising — it’s a process of getting people to understand and act upon the many options they have in life. To help with this, I have coined the acronym, CIVIL, to help people think creatively about their career. CIVIL stands for Competencies, Interests, Values, Income, and Lifestyle. If you can help people to explore issues in each of these five areas, then you can help guide them in exploring viable career tracks in which they can conduct their job search, either on a part-time basis or to transition from entertainment.
It’s interesting to note that career counselors and actors share similar personality traits, in that they are Social, Artistic, and Enterprising personality types. Perhaps this is why I have enjoyed working so much with the participants we serve at The Actors Fund Work Program.
Work in entertainment is largely short-term and project-based. For most performing arts professionals, this means seeking supplemental employment. For 25 years and counting, AWP has helped our community create stable, healthy careers and lives. Call 212.221.7300 in New York or 323.933.9244 in Los Angeles to find out more about AWP.