Catawbas forge successful job partnership with BeaconMedaes

By Don Worthington

When Turgay Ozan arrived in Rock Hill almost three years ago to lead BeaconMedaes’ North American operations, he faced several workforce issues.

BeaconMedaes, which makes compressors for the medical industry, couldn’t find or keep quality employees. Ozan, Turkish by birth and a mining engineer by training, also realized the company needed a more diverse workforce so it would not run afoul of federal equal employment opportunity guidelines.

He studied the area, searching for options. Part of his search was prompted by the large brown signs for the Catawba Indian Reservation. Ozan passed them daily, as BeaconMedaes’ headquarters is a left turn off Dave Lyle Boulevard and into the Waterford Business Park. If you take right turn where Dave Lyle ends, it leads to the Catawba reservation.

Ozan called the tribe, asking if its members would be interested in working at BeaconMedaes.

Tribal leaders responded immediately. Catawba unemployment is estimated at about 30 percent, or about 600 out of 2,100 work-eligible Catawbas. (The last official figures from the federal Bureau of Indian Affair places it at 45 percent, but that estimate is almost 10 years old.)

Tribal leaders understood that for a partnership with BeaconMedaes to work, they needed to send their best-of-the-best candidates. They needed to be tribal members who had a future, not only with BeaconMedaes, but with the tribe as well.

BeaconMedaes’ offer, said Jean Matthews, the job training development manager for the Catawbas, forced the tribe to revamp its job placement program.

Before the offer, Matthews said, the tribe’s efforts were of a vocational, social service outlook. Tribe members wanting a job would come to her office to check whether federal grants would pay for certification or training.

Matthews said the training often didn’t reflect what jobs employers were filling. She realized there needed to be a more practical, focused way of helping tribe members get jobs.

The result is a work-study partnership with BeaconMedaes. Tribal members in the program learn various skills the company needs while Matthews monitors the progress.

“We stay with the people. This is not a placement agency,” she said.

After the work-study program, tribe members compete for BeaconMedaes jobs like any other applicant. They do not get special preference, Ozan said.

What they do have is some work history to show, something they didn’t have before.

Six tribe members have completed the program and four are employed at BeaconMedaes. That may not seem like much, but those six people represent 1 percent of the tribe’s unemployed workforce.

The tribe members work as service technicians, do data project management and review the terms and conditions of sales contracts. There is a vacancy in collections that may be filled with a tribe member, Matthews said.

Ozan said he likes their work and their outlook. One of his goals is creating a learning atmosphere at his office.

Catawba Chief Bill Harris said the feedback from the tribe members employed at BeaconMedaes is that the experience is “life changing.” The tribe members realize there are no limits imposed on them and they can rise within the BeaconMedaes management. Developing young managers, Ozan said, is one of the company’s biggest challenges.

What Chief Harris is most proud of is how Ozan views the tribe.

“He saw us as who we are, not what you thought we are,” Harris said. “It’s all about perception, and Turgay had no perception.”

With the success of the BeaconMedaes partnership, the Catawbas are looking to form other partnerships with local businesses. They realize each partnership will be different, but their hope is they can be equally productive and rewarding. Areas the tribe is considering are in health care, such as certified nursing assistants or in medical record keeping.

Don Worthington •  803-329-4066
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