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By the Numbers in last month’s Colorado Springs Business Journal addressed the low civilian participation rate, and the decline in the percentage of U.S. residents participating in the workforce. Although the decline has stabilized, the rate remains stubbornly low at 63 percent in early 2017. Many speculate this is due to the aging population; however, it is among the younger cohorts where the rate has fallen most precipitously. This points to a structural issue inherent in our workforce: the mismatch between industry’s highest demand occupations and today’s training and educational programs. This misalignment has been in the media much more of late and certainly highlighted in the results of the last election. The solution seems elusive CHARTgiven the time-intensive process of refining or even completely overhauling the U.S. educational pipeline.

In order to address such structural, longer-term issues, it is important first to understand the landscape. Smart communities are becoming highly responsive and nimble in helping industry fill high-demand occupations, and these communities first “audit,” their workforce landscape. That entails fully understanding two fundamental pieces: a) What, exactly, does industry need, and b) What, exactly, does the local community provide in terms of qualified workers? It sounds so simple, but such an audit of workforce demand and supply is seldom pursued in any systematic and meaningful way. Colorado Springs, however, has recognized that thriving communities with robust job creation have a constant feedback loop between industry and training/educational organizations. To that end, various local workforce-related organizations partnered about a year ago, and they include the Chamber & EDC, Pikes Peak Workforce Center, K-12 (specifically, the Career Track programs), Pikes Peak Community College, the city of Colorado Springs, UCCS, the Small Business Development Center, Catalyst Campus, Junior Achievement, and several other institutions. Each training and educational organization is providing a comprehensive list of what training programs, certificates or degrees they provide, and how many people attain these certificates or degrees on an ann
ual basis. This represents the “supply” of workers.

Chart A shows one example of this, the career track programs at Lewis-Palmer School District 38 in partnership with Pikes Peak Community College. These lists are then compared to the monthly, real-time data provided by Wanted Analytics through the PPWFC, which gives the exact occupations being posted by employers via numerous mechanisms (mostly online). Data includes the number of postings by occupation. This represents the “demand” for workers. Chart B shows a subset of the 148 demanded occupations in January 2017. All components will be part of the web-based platform that is under construction and slated for completion later this year. Various participating organizations are funding the work, and a UCCS student intern is collecting the data to keep costs down while also providing meaningful work experience.

The benefits of this simple tool are numerous. Training and educational institutions can review and refine their programs on an ongoing basis with real data reflecting immediate business needs. K-12 can be responsive to business needs via career track programs which target high-demand, middle-skill occupations. High school students benefit because they can make informed decisions about their chosen occupation or field of study. They are also more likely to have a job at the conclusion of their training. Businesses can benefit by knowing what programs exist, how many trained workers are being produced and what organization they can contact to access these skilled workers. Our community can benefit by keeping some of our young talent in the region, with good jobs and meaningful career pathways. We are also likely to keep our unemployment rate lower than the national average, even during a downturn, because a qualified workforce acts as a magnet to industry. Government services are easier to sustain because the tax base is always higher with more people employed at livable wages. Kudos to Colorado Springs for proactively and collaboratively using key data today to not only enhance the current economic momentum, but also to cement the future, economic prospects for our next generation.

— Tatiana Bailey, executive director of the Southern Colorado Economic Forum

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