(Editor’s note: This is the last in a two-part series about efforts to fix the workforce skills gap in the United States. The skills gap is the topic covered at the Oct. 23 Southern Colorado Economic Forum at The Broadmoor. Go to southerncoloradoeconomicforum to register. For more coverage, click here.)
Private industry is broadening its role in closing the workforce and skills gap.
Some businesses have responded by installing their own training programs in-house or in conjunction with industry associations or higher education institutions. Denver’s Galvanize program is an example of a campus which offers various programs, mostly related to software training, with high graduation and placement rates alongside significant increases in salaries.
A positive externality is that the density and network implicit in these programs enhances entrepreneurship and innovation. These campuses can make training financially feasible, while also attracting talent and helping ameliorate the shorter-term, critical needs of businesses.
Colorado stands out in terms of its many assets, and the health of its economy is no exception. Colorado has been in the top five on the state economic activity index since 2012, and we are No. 2 in the nation in terms of the percentage of residents with bachelor’s degree attainment (38 percent) or some college or postsecondary credential (68 percent). This is of paramount importance if the state is going to maintain its economic advantage: 74 percent of all jobs in the state will demand some level of postsecondary training by 2020, while nationwide this metric is at 65 percent.
The state also faces challenges. One issue is the proportion of residents who are not born in-state (70 percent), which is higher than the U.S. average (50 percent). The Hispanic population is the fastest-growing segment in Colorado, and due to differences in socio-economic status, the non-white segment of the population tends to be much less educated (except for Asian-Americans).
By 2040, the non-white share of Colorado’s working adult population is projected to be 43 percent, while today it is 26 percent. Hispanics comprise a large share of this population, but only 19 percent of Hispanic adults have college degrees, whereas 52 percent of non-Hispanic whites have a college degree.
There is a bit of a paradox in that the state is experiencing fantastic economic growth at the same time that a growing share of Coloradans are not entering postsecondary training. Our in-migrants are highly educated, but the demographic shift will require strategic and targeting programs since the in-migration alone won’t be sufficient to cover the workforce demands implicit in the state’s economic growth.
Looking at Colorado Springs, we have the advantage of a relatively well-educated workforce — 37.1 percent of our residents ages 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree, which is significantly more than the U.S. (29.6 percent). The percentage of our residents who have some college or an associate degree is 36.8 percent, which is markedly higher than the U.S. (29.2 percent).
This can likely be attributed to the military presence, particularly officers, the city’s older population and its various strong educational institutions. UCCS stands out as a higher-education institution that is being proactive in addressing the increasing inaccessibility of four-year training and the demographic shift: 28 percent of UCCS graduates are first-generation graduates.
Our region, in particular, is well poised for longer-term, sustainable economic growth given the low supply of qualified workers across the nation and the relatively high educational attainment of our local population. For our region, it will be about retaining the educated workforce via local job opportunities and vigilance in properly aligning postsecondary training with emerging industry needs.
Taking a look at some best practices — classrooms working with industry, targeting underserved populations and career-long training forums, for instance — can provide new ideas for our community.
Innovative initiatives are underway across the country to close the skills gap and build effective pipelines. But even for well-educated communities there is a need to monitor shifting industry needs and to juxtapose those needs with educational curricula.
Successful cities of tomorrow will view this as an opportunity, not a liability. Taking advantage of the opportunity will improve global competitiveness, and increase employment, the tax base and the standard of living. Our city, in particular, can leverage our existing workforce and training assets to create a premier business climate that provides opportunities for our residents.
Our region is well positioned to be a workforce leader within Colorado and the U.S.
Tatiana Bailey is director of the UCCS, Southern Colorado Economic Forum. She can be reached at email@example.com.