With the economy roaring and the unemployment rate near an all time low, the Guilford County Workforce Development Board has the difficult job of helping keep the county’s businesses supplied with a stream of skilled workers to feed the demand.  The organization has just made two moves intended to further that effort.

One tool in the Workforce Development Board’s toolbox is a program that awards grants called “I-Cubed Small Business Training Grants” to small businesses so those businesses can teach workers new skills.  As a part of that program, the development board just awarded the grants to two companies to help them retrain workers for a changing area economy.

A grant of  $14,740 went to AkzoNobel Coating – a High Point company that makes wood-finish coatings, including paints, stains, and lacquers, that are used in cars, planes, ships and consumer goods.

The Workforce Development Board also granted an award of $10,900 to Cascade Die Casting Group, another High Point company.  Cascade makes aluminum and zinc die casters that are used in the off-road sports industry as well as in the consumer electronics and automotive industries.

Guilford County Workforce Development Board Assistant Director Chris Rivera said that these kinds of grants are “a truly valuable financial benefit to small businesses” and he added that they enhance the area’s workforce while helping both the company and the employees.

“We are really excited about [the grants] because the program helps grow small businesses while they improve their employees’ job skills,” he said. “Strengthening employees’ skills improves a business’s competitive edge as well as increases retention and employee productivity.”

The grants are just one way that Workforce Development attempts to prepare workers for a changing economy.  The board has its hands in everything from education to job placement to screening job applicants and consulting with companies to see what kind of workers they need or will need down the road.

Economic development officials constantly point to a large skilled workforce as one of the primary factors that helps convince business owners to relocate or expand in Guilford County.

A lot of new businesses have come to Guilford County in recent years and that, coupled with the historically low unemployment rate, means the Guilford County Workforce Development Board has had to work as hard as ever.

Rivera said current economic conditions make the board’s job more challenging because there are fewer available workers in the pool and, in some cases, he said, there’s a reason those remaining workers haven’t been employed. They may, for instance, have criminal charges in their past, a significant lack of skills or some other issues that are keeping them from being employed at a time when workers are in such high demand.

The Workforce Development Board, a public-private organization with 29 board members, is one of the largest boards in Guilford County.  The group helps businesses find, screen, choose and train workers – at little or no cost to either the employer or the job seeker.  The group consults with current or relocating businesses as well as with economic developers to find qualified workers to meet their needs.  To that end, the board works with the schools, local governments and those in the private sector to match up workers with employers.

The grants program just used for the two High Point companies is meant to provide training necessary to help local workers make themselves marketable in a changing economy.  Often the grants help workers whose jobs were eliminated and whose existing skills are no longer in demand in this area.

The small business grants are made available through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act’s Adult and Dislocated Worker programs that originate with the US Department of Labor and is then passed through the NC Department of Commerce’s Division of Workforce Solutions.