N.C. Secretary of Commerce John Skvarla III visited a Carolina Beach silk-screening business Tuesday to promote the state’s NCWorks jobs-matching initiative and to thank its owners for hiring veterans.
At the first in a series of Small Business Spotlight events planned by his agency, Skvarla visited SeaSide Silk Screening to tout the benefits of an ongoing initiative that has helped transform area employment security commission offices into career resource centers.
NCWorks offers programs for adult job seekers while educating youth from the eighth grade and up about career paths available through apprenticeships and other career-development programs. The state’s official jobs-search portal, NCWorks Online, supplements the activities of the state’s 82 area career centers in marrying job candidates with employer needs.
“They’re basically making it acceptable that you don’t necessarily have to have a four-year degree” to learn a skill and develop a career, Skvarla said during his one-hour visit to the company, one of four local businesses owned and operated by parent firm Carolina Beach Apparel.
In the past six months, SeaSide Silk Screening, located in the Maritime West Business Park south of the Port of Wilmington, has tapped the resources of NCWorks to hire two ex-Marines for its growing workforce, which has expanded to 22 employees since Carolina Business Apparel acquired the firm in April 2014, said Mark Sblendorio, its managing partner. The company designs and produces T-shirts, team uniforms, decals, hats and other colorful items for a variety of clients across the region.
“We have grown four times our size in a little over two years,” said Sblendorio, who joined Skvarla in championing the value of NC Works. “Our growth has been phenomenal. We have to work super fast to keep up with it,” he said.
“This is a program that’s very positive,” Sblendorio said. He cited not only the applicant-screening and jobs-matching components of NCWorks but also the 70-percent state reimbursement that SeaSide Silk Screening receives to help cover the gross salaries of program hires during their first five months on the job.
Taking the traditional route in hiring – placing a “help wanted” ad and directly screening candidates with no financial reimbursement – would have involved additional risk, Sblendorio said, and even though the company currently has no existing debt, “You’re struggling with cash flow every day.”
While NCWorks also offers grants to help employers with training, Sblendorio didn’t know about that aspect of the program at first. “I wish I was aware of this,” he said after the event ended.
For the two veterans that he recently hired, Sblendorio’s participation in the state initiative has produced quick dividends.
Sharese Robertson, a former Army medic stationed in Germany and at Fort Bragg who joined SeaSide Silk Screening in December, worked “a lot of customer service jobs” before being matched with her new employer. Using NCWorks, “This was my first interview and immediately was my first job. I got hired on the spot,” she beamed. “I love it.”
Martin Krieger, hired seven weeks ago, had been based in New Orleans as a combat lithographer but found it difficult to connect with a civilian job in his field, a search made harder because he had no civilian degree.
At SeaSide Silk Screening, Krieger is gaining experience with screen printing. “I’m definitely learning new things,” he said.
“We realize that this is a good part of our workforce that we need to help,” said Kim Genardo, the commerce department’s spokeswoman, of veteran hires.
“We’re trying to fit the needs of employers with the skill sets that are out there,” Skvarla added.
As for new hires, “They see a chance to grow with the company professionally, economically,” he said.
While in Wilmington, Skvarla also held a small-group discussion with business owners Tuesday afternoon at the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.