The U.S. has always been the land of opportunity, and Beverly Sytz is working hard to make sure that remains true for the country’s newest residents.
Sytz, 50, is owner of Gateway to Employment, a staffing agency that specializes in finding jobs for refugees.
Each year, Charlotte receives several hundred refugees from around the world. One of the challenges they face is finding stable employment that provides a decent wage and a path to self-sufficiency.
Sytz used to work in the textile industry. Unlike most former textile employees, however, she was not forced to leave because of plant closings.
The Gaston County-based company where Sytz worked for 24 years as the director of human resources is still thriving under the management of her brother, Ron Sytz. The company itself, Beverly Knits, was named after Beverly Sytz by her father, Robert Sytz, who founded the business in 1980; her position there was secure.
So why did she leave the company in 2011? Refugees played a big part.
In 2009, Beverly Knits started using the federal government’s E-Verify system to check the eligibility of job applicants to work legally in the U.S., increasing the challenges Sytz faced in recruiting stable employees. A solution was to begin hiring refugees, who are able to work here legally.
“As we started hiring refugees, I was impressed by their work ethic, loyalty, and eagerness to learn. They made great employees,” said Sytz.
As she began to get to know some of the refugees, Sytz was also struck by their personal histories. Their stories of injustice and religious and political persecution made her want to become more involved.
Sytz, who lives near Park Road Shopping Center, began to look for ways to connect with the refugee community. She began to volunteer with some of the organizations that helped refugees navigate their new life in America. And she began to realize there were a lot of people who could use help in getting established and laying a foundation for their children’s future.
As she pondered what more she could do to help, Sytz felt her background in Human Resources could make a difference.
“The key to success in this country is a job that offers stable employment, a regular paycheck and a future,” said Sytz. “My experience at Beverly Knits brought me into contact with a variety of staffing agencies that actively worked to find employment for their clients. So I began to wonder if I could do something similar that focused on providing employment for refugees.”
In October 2011, she left her job at Beverly Knits and began laying the groundwork for Gateway to Employment.
In the last year, Sytz has formed relationships with a number of Mecklenburg County businesses, both large and small. She has been able to provide employment for dozens of refugees.
Her business operates like a typical staffing agency. Employers pay her a set fee per hour. She then pays employees an hourly wage, covers benefits, taxes, etc., and makes a profit. She currently has 36 employees contracted to local companies; all have the potential to become full-time employees, based on their job performance.
Sytz finds her employees by networking with churches and volunteer organizations as well as the refugee resettlement agencies. She finds companies / employers to work with through past HR relationships, referrals and making cold calls.
“For refugees, this is their last hope. If they don’t make it here, there’s nowhere else for them to go. I have a sincere personal interest in helping these men and women find employment. So my work doesn’t feel like a job at all. I really enjoy interacting and learning from them.”