About 4,800 students will graduate from Colorado Springs’ three major non-service colleges this month.
It’s uncertain how many of them will stay to take jobs in the Pikes Peak region, but university officials have been working with local businesses to retain grads and fill local employment needs.
According to Tatiana Bailey, director of the UCCS Economic Forum, IT specialists and skilled health care workers such as registered nurses are the most in demand in the Colorado Springs area.
“We know we have a shortage in health care, IT and a few other fields,” Bailey said. “We also know we probably are not creating enough graduates in those fields. It’s not just in Colorado Springs; it’s a nationwide problem.”
Shortages are critical in some areas.
“We have 1,200 to 1,300 job openings for registered nurses every month,” Bailey said. “We need a concerted community effort in order to address the skills gap and labor shortage.”
To help match graduates with local employers, a group of community leaders dubbed the Dream Team created the Workforce Asset Map (WAM!), a free one-stop online tool that connects students and job seekers with employers.
Members of the Dream Team came from the UCCS Economic Forum, Pikes Peak Community College, Pikes Peak Workforce Center, Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center, Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC and other organizations.
“I think we’re further along than most communities in better understanding whether we are producing graduates in the high-demand fields,” Bailey said. “We’re now working on it in a concerted fashion.”
Pikes Peak Community College
Pikes Peak Community College will graduate about 3,900 students at this year’s commencement Saturday, May 12, at the Broadmoor World Arena. Associate degrees will be awarded to 58 percent of the graduates, while 42 percent will receive career or technical certificates.
The college’s mission is to graduate students who can get jobs and fill the needs of local employers, said Warren Epstein, executive director of marketing and communication.
“We are working with local economists and determining what the needs are now and in the next five to 10 years,” Epstein said. “We are constantly expanding and growing to meet those needs. The nimbleness to see needs and ramp up our program to meet them is one of the values of our college.”
PPCC’s two-year nursing program already is No. 1 among similar programs in the state, Epstein said: 99.5 percent of its graduates pass their board exams each year.
The college is building upon that program to create a four-year nursing program, which will begin accepting students in 2019 or 2020. PPCC already has developed a four-year program in emergency services administration that will start in the fall.
“We’re growing into four-year programs — so many people are priced out of four-year colleges — and offering things other colleges aren’t,” Epstein said.
PPCC recently initiated a new program to fill jobs in construction, another field where demand for workers is high.
“A lot of it is advanced manufacturing, which includes robotics, 3D printing and [computer-aided design] — basically high-tech, very specific skills for jobs that usually are pretty high in pay,” Epstein said. “We had a kid graduating in advanced manufacturing recently who had five job offers.”
PPCC is partnering with businesses to fill the need for skilled employees. GE Johnson Construction Co. helped fund a program to create a pipeline of skilled construction workers through scholarships for students seeking construction degrees and certificates.
The college also partnered with Denver-based cyber firm SecureSet to offer two new courses designed to prepare students and IT professionals for Network+ and Security+ certification exams, the industry standard for people who want to enter the cybersecurity field. PPCC already offers a cybersecurity certificate as part of its Computer Networking Technology degree.
According to the college’s website, there has been a 90 percent increase in demand for cybersecurity professionals nationwide. In Colorado Springs, about 100 positions await qualified workers.
About 1,600 UCCS students were set to receive their diplomas — for bachelor’s degrees to doctorates — on Friday, May 11, at the Broadmoor World Arena.
Based on a survey conducted in January by the college’s Institutional Research Office and Alumni Association, “over 70 percent of our alumni reside in Colorado Springs,” said Bev Kratzer, director of the UCCS Career Center.
Kratzer said the university also hosts career fairs and meet-and-greets to expose students to potential employers.
The university has held two science, technology, engineering and mathematics career fairs this school year, each attended by about 400 students. Ninety percent of the employers who attended were local businesses.
Kratzer has worked with Bailey and workforce development organizations and is aware of the shortages in health care and IT.
She cautions that not all of the job openings, especially in nursing, are entry-level positions.
“Often when I see nursing jobs, they are asking for experience. There are entry-level nursing jobs for our students who are willing to work in different areas, including long-term care and new grad programs in hospitals to gain experience,” Kratzer said.
In IT, the outlook is different.
“For our computer science students, there are a lot of entry-level opportunities,” Kratzer said. “That is one area where graduates have a lot of choice.”
The university has developed several new programs to help meet employers’ needs.
The university expanded its curriculum at the Helen and Arthur E. Johnson Beth-El College of Nursing and Health Sciences last fall with the Nurse-Family Partnership, a program whereby nurses visit with low-income, first-time moms every few weeks during their pregnancies.
The visits, which continue until the child turns 2, provide support and education for the moms and give students a taste of alternative nursing roles, possibly inspiring them to work in public health.
A new partnership to address the need for nurses with bachelor’s degrees in the Pikes Peak region will be announced soon, said Jared Verner, assistant director for university communications and media relations.
The university launched a new bachelor of science degree in engineering education in 2016. It is intended to provide more teachers in STEM disciplines, to involve more women and representatives of minority groups in STEM education and eventually to boost the pipeline of workers in STEM fields.
According to a UCCS article on the program, only about 16 percent of U.S. high school students are proficient in math and have an interest in STEM careers.
Also in 2016, the university inaugurated a new bachelor’s degree in inclusive education. The degree is designed to support a growing need for elementary school teachers with specific training in special education and culturally and linguistically diverse education.
The university expects graduates of the program to be in high demand.
UCCS also has started offering a bachelor’s degree in exercise science — a program that is exclusive in the university system to the Colorado Springs campus — and a master’s in athletic training. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected a 19 percent growth rate for exercise physiologists and a 21 percent growth rate for athletic trainers between 2012 and 2022.
Colorado College will graduate about 560 students on Monday, May 21. The ceremony will be held outdoors on campus, weather permitting.
Many Colorado College graduates want to remain in the local area, said Megan Nicklaus, CC Career Center director. In a 2017 survey of graduates, Colorado Springs was the No. 1 location where they chose to live.
“It used to be that we saw a number of students migrate to Denver or Boulder, but Colorado Springs is becoming a destination,” Nicklaus said. “My impression is that Colorado Springs is fostering a sense of community” with places and opportunities to connect with other young professionals. Access to the outdoors “and having a community to participate with is also compelling.”
A fair number of CC graduates work in IT fields, but the largest segment of those who remain here go to work for nonprofits such as the El Pomar Foundation, Nicklaus said.
Colorado College participates in the Quad Innovation Partnership, a joint initiative among CC, PPCC, UCCS and the Air Force Academy. (The Academy’s class of 2018 will graduate and be commissioned as second lieutenants on May 23.)
The program’s vision is to engage students and recent graduates in the local economy and help them identify opportunities that will keep them here.
“The Colorado Springs community is eager to hire students,” said Jacob Eichengreen, executive director of the partnership. “We have a tremendous amount of opportunities for students who want to end up on leadership, design and innovation tracks, perhaps more so than other communities.”
This semester, the program drew dedicated teams of students from all four institutions to work on projects for local clients.
“Janska came to us to help build their brand identities,” Eichengreen said. The student team did market research and interviews to help the company understand the value customers find in its line of clothing for people with limited mobility and then build marketing and sales strategies.
Another team worked with Altia, a graphical user interface company. The team helped evaluate and build out revenue projections for a new product the company wants to bring to market.
Of the 27 students who participated, “eight ended up in jobs or internships through connections they made during the program,” Eichengreen said. “We know several are still in the Springs.”
Eichengreen said the project teams and their clients will give presentations on their work and the value the teams produced at a Demo Day event at 8 a.m. May 16 at the Cornerstone Arts Center, 825 N. Cascade Ave. Tickets are available at eventbrite.com.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect new graduation numbers from Pikes Peak Community College.