Romer: Market forces drive economic changes for workers, businesses (column)
Colorado — and Eagle County — need to continue to plan for resiliency. As our state and community continue to grow (albeit at a slower rate than past years), we are faced with increasing disparity in growth, income, jobs and education.
Market forces drive our economic change. How does a community plan, adapt and adjust to meet not only today’s needs but our needs into the future?
We believe continued economic vitality and growth (and our ability to survive the next economic downturn and come out ahead of our competition) requires collaboration across public and private sectors to address our workforce challenges. We’re stronger as a community when everyone works together, to help people and to help businesses, so everyone prospers.
Let’s work off the fact (backed by state demographer data) that our community has a significant out-migration of population starting around age 30-32 and continuing through age 60 and older (in other words, our prime working years). If we can find ways to retain our young talent, then we’ll be better able to weather the next economic storm.
How do we keep talent in Eagle County? We need to find ways to address skilled trade education in order to grow our own workforce. Talent attraction of skilled workforce is simply not a sustainable model given our cost of living — there are more 32 to 60 year-olds leaving Eagle County each year than we could ever hope to attract to backfill our needs.
One way to retain these workers is through an increase in education efforts targeting skilled trades. An unprecedented skilled labor shortage exists from a combination of the Great Recession’s levels of unemployment, industry veterans aging out of the workforce and the fact that many high school graduates are not interested in blue-collar jobs.
Manpower Group, a global staffing firm, recently reported that skilled trade vacancies are the hardest jobs to fill in the country. Skilled trades (electricians, carpenters, welders, bricklayers, plasterers, plumbers, masons and others) have maintained the No. 1 position in vacancies from 2010 to the present.
Addressing our market needs
Many businesses want to grow and plan to grow. Residents (many of us) want to stay; and skilled jobs are available. Economic change is imminent. The good news for Eagle County is that we have the workforce infrastructure in place to be innovative and meet the needs of our residents and our businesses, allowing us to create a system that addresses our market needs.
Colorado Mountain College and the Colorado Workforce Center are key local partners. These organizations already have a culture of meeting job seeker and business needs. Colorado Mountain College has a proven track record of developing innovative need-driven programs such as skilled nursing, teacher and culinary programs. The Workforce Center has a strong history of supporting both job seekers and employers.
We are in need of a new pathway where employers, government, employees and students share in workforce development efforts. Our systems are struggling to align to the changing workforce development needs of the economy, and there is a need for expanded leadership and investment from the business community. We need a new approach that will create shared value and more effective pathways to employment, and we have the right community partners in place to make it happen.
High paying skilled career jobs in fields ranging from electricians to plumbers to technology workers remain unfilled in Eagle County. Building a future talent pipeline with our established community partners can benefit residents and businesses now and into the future.
Chris Romer is president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. Learn more at http://www.vailvalleypartnership.com.