Vail Valley Partnership CEO: Focusing on the local workforce can grow middle class (column) | VailDaily.com

Vail Valley Partnership CEO: Focusing on the local workforce can grow middle class (column)

Chris Romer
Vail Valley Partnership

Job growth in Colorado is expected to slow this year as an overtaxed infrastructure system and worker shortages weigh on the economy.

The outlook doesn't call for a downturn but rather projects hiring in Colorado will slow next year, not from a lack of job openings but rather from a lack of workers to fill those positions, according to the Colorado Business Economic Outlook 2018.

How do we work to address workforce issues, grow our own workforce and help our businesses fill the jobs they need in order to grow?

The 2017 Colorado Talent Pipeline Report examines the supply and demand of talent in Colorado and strategies for strengthening the state's talent pipeline.

The report focuses on high-demand, high-growth jobs. The report also explores areas of untapped talent in Colorado. Recommendations from the Governor's Workforce and Education Cabinet work group on how the state could continue to strengthen the talent pipeline include:

• Accelerate and deepen partnerships between education, business and industry to develop Colorado talent.

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• Ensure that Coloradans have the skills they will need to succeed and grow the state economy in the future.

• Mobilize Colorado's untapped talent potential to close the skills gap and connect people to careers leading to the middle class.

A big component is helping our students find career pathways. When students have more choice, less debt and valuable skills, and when businesses have a talented workforce pipeline, the middle class grows and thrives. How do we do this to meet the needs identified above?

This is easy to say, but hard to do. So how, exactly, do we accomplish these recommendations and build a talent pipeline to address the concerns outlined in the Business Outlook and the Talent Pipeline reports?

Partnerships and collaboration. Working together is foundational to everything we do. We truly respect the work of all three sectors — public, private and nonprofit — because we all play a critical role in our economic success. The Eagle County CareerWise Colorado youth apprenticeship program is a prime example of how we can grow a talent pipeline and to lead students toward middle class careers.

Addressing community issues such as workforce is a long-tail game. It is not a short-term overnight program launch, but rather a systematic change to our efforts that require buy-in from numerous partners: school district, community college, business community, parents, students.

To ensure positive outcomes, getting it right is more important than doing it fast.

Development of a new program such as youth apprenticeships requires buy-in and trust from numerous partners. This doesn't happen by accident and doesn't happen overnight. A continued focus on relationships and build trust has better short-term and long-term outcomes.

CareerWise is a "heavy lift" for businesses, and requires a corresponding commitment from students. Honest communications on expectations is needed; there's no sugarcoating the fact the program requires a lot of effort.

How can it work? Through public-private partnerships. Chambers of commerce exist to be the catalyst for business growth, the convener of leaders and influencers, and the champion for a stronger community. Perseverance and focus are required when tackling workforce issues, and collaboration leads to success.

We have tremendous community support from our business, education, and local government leaders for implementing a successful CareerWise apprenticeship program and other workforce development programs. An old African proverb states "Alone, we can go fast. Together, we can go far." That's the beauty of partnership and collaboration, and we can't solve our workforce pipeline issues without continued collaboration.

Chris Romer is president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. Learn more at http://www.vailvalleypartnership.com.