Pandemic or not: 2021 can be banner year for your career

Allow me to state the obvious: The region’s business community has struggled in 2020 and is now bracing for what will come in 2021.

Successful companies won’t waste time wringing hands; they are squarely focused on configuring products and services to navigate an evolving business world through a lingering pandemic. We have seen this innovation play out, over and over. Just think about those distilleries that immediately switched gears, from vodka to hand sanitizer.

Ingenuity isn’t just part of a recipe for corporate success, it’s the staple that we all need as the calendar flips to 2021. That’s why I’m urging Middlesex County Regional Chamber of Commerce members to not dismiss this as a season of dread. Rather, with the right outlook, some networking and a smattering of research, it can be a season of opportunity, in which all the norms and expectations of your planned career should be reassessed.

With all the pessimism out there, we are hearing from chamber businesses that continue to grow and evolve, and are eagerly looking for new employees to help execute their plans for 2021. If you see a dark future in your current occupation, now is the time to go where there is light.

Likely the greatest example of success has been Amazon, which joined our chamber last year. Amazon operates six fulfillment centers in Middlesex County, hiring thousands of local people. Well, as you guessed it, Amazon continues to grow in our state, with a recent announcement that it’s hiring an additional 9,500 full- and part-time seasonal workers in New Jersey for the holidays.

The company’s operations network offers jobs for people of all backgrounds and skill levels — from picking, packing and shipping to human resources, information technology and operating robotics. During this pandemic, Amazon was still able to promote 35,000 talented employees, many of whom arrived from previous careers.

And Amazon, like other successful companies, provides great benefits. It also has a program known as “Career Choice,” which pays to up-skill Amazon employees interested in pursuing a future in a high-demand field, either inside or outside of the company. By delivering training in various career paths, Amazon employees can evolve and pursue their career aspirations, wherever it leads them. More than 2,000 New Jerseyans have already taken advantage of this program.

Now, that doesn’t sound like a dark path for 2021, right?

Silver Line Windows and Doors in North Brunswick would certainly agree — it currently has about 250 job openings. Silver Line also has operations in Illinois, Georgia and Ohio, as part of an even larger company with 67 locations all over the country. Bottom line: A job in North Brunswick can take you anywhere.

The company is opening two new product lines in 2021 and needs 58 employees for each one. Silver Line is happy to train you. For example, if you want to drive a forklift, the company will get you certified. And, with so much movement and expansion, the company is quickly promoting team leaders and managers. One employee, for example, had five promotions in five years, while another who joined in April just earned his first promotion.

Success stories are plentiful. There’s the employee who arrived from Haiti and is now a team leader who is getting tuition reimbursement to earn his CPA. All this growth has allowed his family to come to the U.S. and grab a piece of the American Dream.

Incentives are everywhere: A $1,000 retention bonus if you stay with Silver Line for 90 days; a $300 bonus if you refer an employee who remains for at least the same time.

There’s also big demand at MS International in Edison, which sells countertops, tile and other hardscapes for the home. With everyone working remotely these days, the company has seen an uptick in business from those eager to remodel. In fact, the company’s e-commerce business is up 75% in 2020.

That has created jobs across the company, such as shipping, receiving, customer service, quality control and maintenance. It has also created plenty of perks, like a $17 an hour starting salary, with a 10% boost for working nights. There’s also quality health insurance, retirement savings and a generous employee discount of 70% off. There are 24 jobs right now, for the taking.

Despite the common mood as we collectively cope with COVID-19, now is certainly not the time to ignore opportunity. I am convinced good things await you behind the right doors in 2021. The question is: Are you ready to begin opening them?

Lina Llona is president of the Middlesex County Regional Chamber of Commerce.