The Workforce Development of the Western Piedmont Council of Governments in conjunction with the City of Conover is working to bring changes to how people search for and obtain jobs in Catawba County.
In other areas of the country and the world, employment agencies are taking a different approach to building a workforce. They have learned that they could expedite the hiring process if they pre-screened potential employees and then match them to employers.
It has taken a long time before the process was adopted because there was no need due to the recession. The recession forced a lot of people out of work -- be they individuals who were laid off or baby boomers retiring and leaving the workforce. As the economy rebounded, different employers started seeking qualified employees but they are not available.
Even though the economy seems to be better and the unemployment numbers are down, there are still individuals who are not employed and are not being counted in the unemployment numbers and many more who are underemployed. There are currently thousands of jobs in Catawba County that are not being filled because they cannot find qualified individuals. Many of these jobs are in manufacturing and textiles.
"We now have a workforce crisis," Donald Duncan Jr. Conover City Manager said. "We saw this coming. Even during the recession, when we had 12-15 percent unemployment here we knew as soon as we came out of the recession we'd have a workforce crisis."
"A lot of people were told don't go into manufacturing -- even though American manufacturing is still the most desired in the world." Duncan said. "Now there is a huge gap in the ability to pair employers and employees."
In the past, if you were recently unemployed, you go to the Unemployment Office. There you would stand in line, fill out some paperwork and eventually you'd get a check. From then on, they'd mail you a check or deposit money in your bank account. All you have to do was to get some employers's HR Staff to say you'd been there to apply for a job.
"That's unproductive," Duncan said. "This is a more proactive approach."
New space is currently being fit-up in Conover Station for a new state-of-the-art approach to employing the unemployed and getting underemployed into higher paying jobs.
The system is being completely revamped. The new approach will be for you to come into the office and the staff will analyze your total education and training over your entire career and attempt to match you to an employer.
"The former system was completely employer centric," Duncan said. "This adds another element -- in this building the employee side is here and the employer side is across the hall. We bring employers in and we sit down with them to see what they need in an employee and we will help you find them."
"They all come here so this becomes the feeding area," Duncan said. "We try to match them quicker -- essentially we've become an expedited head hunter but on a grander scale. We take the government resources that have been allocated for the last 40-50 years in a passive system and turn it around and make it into a progressive system."
"In short, under the old system, if you were recently unemployed you'd be standing in a line with a woman with her head in curlers and the young man with the pants around his knees and persons who just got up and were still in their PJs," Duncan said. "How can you expect anyone to have any confidence in their government when the first thing that they see is 1950s era bureaucratic building where there's a wall between them and the government and a little window where someone hands out a check?"
Maybe you have been in that line before -- many people have since the recession.
"That is not how it should be -- it should be an interactive process and an inviting process," Duncan said. "You need to come into this facility as if you were prepared to meet your future employer in the hallway because you likely will -- that's the whole concept."
"Today, the community that will survive, grow and flourish is one that can produce a quality workforce continuously," Duncan said. "This is one element that has taken a long time to get off the ground to help rebuild the economy and rebuilding the economy now is generating a qualified workforce."
"When you look at the future of the old building out on Highway 70, you kind of get to the point where you have to do something," Wendy Johnson, Director of Workforce Development of the Western Piedmont Council of Governments said.
There's a lot of things that have changed in workforce development since 2011 and 2012," Johnson explained. "The workforce boards were given functional oversight of what is now called the NCWorks Career Centers. They are no longer called Employment Security Offices."
"The great thing about that is that there is a lot more cross training that is taking place, we can serve people more quickly," Johnson said. "We've got to be able to do things at the speed of business and that's where we are."
"I call this a labor of love," Johnson said. "We started this several years ago and we have finally got to the point where it is finally the thing to do -- to move the career center and be not another governmental institutional-looking facility where people thought their needs couldn't be met in the way of job search."
"I think the mindset in the past was you went in, took a number, got referred and we never saw you again," Johnson said. "And that's so not what happens inside the NCWorks Career Centers anymore."
"NCWorks collaborates very well with the community colleges offering workshops on how to get jobs, how to keep jobs and they have an employer panel that comes in," Johnson said. "This ties in very well at Conover Station because now there is what is called the employer centric side and the job seeker centric side. There is also the ability to use the community center downstairs for recruitment events."
"With the changes of the NCWorks Career Center and what we call our integrated Service Delivery Model which is really the business model in how we work within the career centers, we've seen an uptick in the recruitment events and now we impact and help employers and are much more mobile in helping out in the community," Johnson said.
"We've gone lean in a way -- it was our decision," Johnson said. "We are doing more with less and I think we are doing it quicker. Even with NCWorks.gov, our on-line job search tool that we use now -- there's an app for it even, there's a virtual recruiter that's built in it for the job seeker and the business side."
"Hopefully having a fresh, new space with all the history that this building has with it, we'll see the positive impact for the community," Johnson said. "The space is more attractive and more up-to-date -- it was just time."