By Dennis Seid
NEW ALBANY – Carla Shackelford’s birthday was Tuesday, and she celebrated by stitching pillows for the first time on the first day of her new job.
Shackelford also happened to be the first graduate of the newly formed Furniture Academy, which meant her job application was given priority, and she was given higher starting pay.
“This is brand new, I’m excited,” said Shackelford, who was hired as a seamstress for Kevin Charles Furniture. It’s her first foray into the industry, although she’s not completely unfamiliar with it. Her father works for another furniture company, and her mother, grandmother and great-aunt were seamstresses.
“I’ve got a lot of home support, so I can get lessons if I need to,” she said with a laugh.
The Academy was created by several area furniture manufacturers – including Kevin Charles, H.M. Richards in Baldwyn, Homestretch in Nettleton, MaxHome in Fulton and Iuka and Southern Motion in Pontotoc and Baldwyn.
The 28-hour program, is an introduction to furniture manufacturing. It also includes training in teamwork and problem solving, developing work ethic and gaining financial awareness and life skills. Classes are taught at the main campuses and satellites of Itawamba Community College and Northeast Mississippi Community College.
Shackelford was one of the first three “test class” participants who started two weeks ago.
She hadn’t heard of the Academy until she went to the WIN Job Center looking for job opportunities.
“I had been off a few months, and I was going to apply for whatever they had,” she said. “Then they told me there was something on the upholstery line, but I was looking for something a little different in the furniture industry.”
A Job Center employee mentioned the Furniture Academy to her, and after asking a few questions, she signed up for the academy.
“We talked about work ethic, attendance, being at work and being on time, OSHA training and some career development courses,” she said. “It was just beneficial all around.”
Shackelford had dipped her toe in the automotive industry, the last job as a sales representative. But working on commission didn’t provide the stability income-wise she wanted as a single parent of a 6-year-old and a 15-year-old.
“It’s a little more laid back and less stressful here (at Kevin Charles),” she said. “Before I came here I had heard it was a good place to work. They had little turnover … and if you get good people, they’ll stay with you for a while. And that’s the type of place I wanted to work.”
Rusty Berryhill, president of Kevin Charles, said he was impressed after meeting Shackelford last week after her graduation.
“I think she’s the perfect candidate … she’s got the best personality, she’s got the want-to, the drive, and she answered every question I had with enthusiasm,” he said. “Her grades were outstanding, and she happened to be the first Furniture Academy graduate. That just adds a little ice cream to the cake.”