Free PC Skills Training Has Big Impact on Family-Owned Store at the Jersey Shore

There’s never a moment to waste at Initial Impact, Dale and Donna Szakats’ promotional products store near the big sandy beaches of Spring Lake, NJ.

Their shop on Warren Avenue, which was established 30 years ago, works hard to keep up with the influx of customer orders for its custom embroidery, monogram, silkscreen, and other promotional products. Vacations are a rarity.

Sisters Donna Szakats (left) and Tammy Greg of Initial Impact are taking PC Skills classes.
Sisters Donna Szakats (left) and Tammy Greg of Initial Impact are taking PC Skills classes.

Click-here-to-find-out-how-trainingBut Donna and her sister Tammy Gregg, who also works at the shop, are making time for training in Microsoft Word and Excel, two programs essential to the company’s back-office efficiency.

They are able to afford this training through instruction offered by Brookdale Community College and the state’s Basic Skills Workforce Training Program, which is free to New Jersey employers and their employees.

“Initial Impact liked the idea of getting free instruction for employees at Brookdale,” Tammy said at a recent class in Word 2013 conducted by instructor Fred Ambrose, a favorite among local companies due to his humorous, low-key, and effective teaching style. Tammy is learning Word so she can also do clerical work for the family business.

There are no doubts about it, running a family business comes with a wide range of unique challenges. However, that being said, nowadays, thanks to the services offered by business experts such as a succession planning consultant, planning for the growth of a family-owned business has never been easier.

In case you were not already aware, succession planning involves identifying how a company will be passed on to the next generation. Essentially, this involves handing over responsibilities and roles to several different individuals. Consequently, a coordinated plan needs to be in place to make the process as smooth as possible for everyone involved. Moreover, by identifying the unique challenges that family-owned businesses face, it is possible to address these issues quickly and professionally to ensure that the company can thrive.

Accordingly, the NJ Community College Consortium, in conjunction with the New Jersey Business & Industry Association and the NJ Department of Labor & Workforce Development, started the Basic Skills program in 2007 specifically to help small businesses that could not afford the cost or requirements of the state’s existing training programs. (The Labor Department provides program funding.)

Most of the more than 4,300 businesses participating in the program over the past seven years have taken advantage of its open- enrollment feature, which allows individual companies to send just a few or even one employee to be trained at a local college, along with employees enrolled from other companies. (Companies with 10 or more employees in need of instruction can get on-site training.)

Jim McCarthy, Brookdale’s business training manager, said the Basic Skills program and its open-enrollment feature are popular with local businesses. More than 1,300 employees with 62 companies received Basic Skills training from Brookdale in 2013.

“It’s great that NJBIA, the Consortium, and the state are doing this for small business. It helps them immensely and it absolutely helps the state economy,” McCarthy said in his sunlit office near the business-training classrooms, adding: “Anything that helps a company produce more income, employ more people, and pay more taxes is part of the virtuous economic cycle. It’s a beautiful thing.”

Consortium Executive Director Sivaraman Anbarasan said the state’s 19 community colleges make the program a success with excellent instruction. “These instructors are tops in their fields,” he said, noting that classes are offered in PC skills (Word, Outlook, Excel and PowerPoint), communications (written and verbal, including customer service), English as a second language, Spanish in the workplace and mathematics & measurement.

This story was originally published in the April 2014 issue of New Jersey Business, the magazine of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association. The author is Christopher Biddle, President of Biddle Communications & Public Relations.