The Pikes Peak Workforce Center, Pikes Peak Community College and UCCS commissioned a skills gap report based on concerns that skills employers needed did not match the experience possessed by workers. The survey covered eight employer industry sectors were identified and more than 1,200 organizations were invited to participate. There were 291 participants.

“From the PPCC perspective, the skills gap report is important because we kept getting requests from employers, one at a time, to develop new certification and degree programs,” said Debbie Sagen, PPCC’s vice president of workforce development.

“That’s very expensive and we can’t do it without a lot of analysis beforehand. We looked at available data about where demand was for future workforce in our region, but we couldn’t make sense of data we saw. A lot of that was because of how labor market data is forecasted in our country. It’s largely based on past history. We wanted information from real, live employers. We wanted their take on where the gaps were in the region, and the most important areas that colleges and universities should be focused on in the future.”

Dana Barton is business relations and employment development director for the Pikes Peak Workforce Center.

“At the Workforce Center, we work with both job seekers and employers,” Barton said. “We’re hearing from employers that they are unable to fill open positions because candidates don’t possess the qualities they’re looking for. … Like the community college, we want to guide people in the right direction — where should they get new training? What type of occupation should they go into? What career pathways are available locally? But we also want to satisfy the needs of employers coming to us to fill positions.”

Sagen said the report provides the necessary data to begin conversations on how to address the region’s skills gaps.

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“The best use of this report is that we finally have quantitative data,” she said. “It’s not just a collection of stories from individual employers who paint different pictures of the community.

“Now we can have a conversation with K-through-12 school districts, colleges and universities in the region; conversations with the Workforce Center, the Women’s Resource Agency or the [Regional Business Alliance] and have a conversation about regional development. We can start to work on real issues.”

Top 10 takeaways from Skills Report

1. A regional skills gap exists mirroring national skills gaps in middle-skill jobs, which require more than a high school diploma but not a college degree. The majority of surveyed companies representing manufacturing, health care, financial services and construction also represent the majority of unfilled middle-skill jobs.

2. Employers are adapting to workforce shortages by hiring workers with fewer skills and training them. Barriers, however, include lack of access to affordable training and resources.

3. Young professionals are hard to attract and retain. More than a third of surveyed employers struggled with attracting and retaining young professionals.

4. More than half the surveyed employers were not impressed with military veteran applicants, stating they were not more or less skilled than general applicants.

5. Companies concerned that workforce shortages curb their ability to grow might be unable or unwilling to increase wages. Many companies indicating[claiming?] workforce shortages impeded growth indicated[stated?] they paid competitive wages. Fewer than a third would consider wage increases. Well-qualified job seekers, however, are taking top-paying jobs, even if it means leaving the region. That vacuum leaves a regional pool of less-qualified workers.

6. To recruit and retain talent, employers must partner in workforce training; there need to be low-cost, third-party training resources; forums should exist to facilitate conversations about hiring and talent development; and there need to be third-party providers of human resources services.

7. To develop skills, high schools and post-secondary institutions must collaborate to identify and address gaps in basic skills, including computer skills and workplace communication.

8. Work-based connections are needed between high school and college students and the workforce. Those connections can be via internships and apprenticeship programs.

9. Communication must be improved among secondary schools, colleges, universities and high-growth industry sectors to increase awareness of needed skills.

10. In order to develop a stronger workforce, the “perception gap” must be addressed. Employers need to provide job seekers with accurate information about the realities of the region’s economy, in addition to promoting high-demand occupations.