Vail Valley Partnership CEO: What can we accomplish together for our youngsters? (column) | VailDaily.com

Vail Valley Partnership CEO: What can we accomplish together for our youngsters? (column)

Chris Romer
Vail Valley Partnership

The gap between the skills and talent employers need and what job seekers possess is not a challenge unique to the state of Colorado or to us here in the Vail Valley. Workforce gaps continue to be a challenge for businesses and regions across the country.

Colorado has a reputation for meeting its workforce needs in part by attracting a large share of highly educated workers from out-of-state; Colorado must also ensure that the education and training pipelines within the state are adequately preparing youth and adults for the workforce and are aligned with the needs of the economy.

As we continue to grow, and our businesses continue to need qualified and skilled employees, we know that our conventional talent pipeline of students completing high school and directly entering a college or university and graduating on-time accounts for just a portion of our students. Further, we know that there are a number of productive pathways an individual can follow to acquire essential skills for employment.

No single program, organization or institution acting in isolation can solve the complex, large-scale education and workforce readiness problems facing our region. However, by working together, we can grow our own future workforce and give young people in our community to have employment opportunities in the future.

Workforce Development

Together, we can solve community issues such as workforce development. What exactly does this mean to Eagle County and the Vail Valley? Workforce development efforts attempt to enhance our economic stability and prosperity by focusing on people, which in turn helps support our businesses. Workforce development has evolved from a problem-focused approach, addressing issues such as low-skilled workers or the need for more employees in a particular industry, to a holistic approach considering participants' many barriers and the overall needs of the region.

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Today, the burden of educating the newest members of Colorado's workforce falls directly on our schools. But businesses are having difficulty finding employees with the appropriate competencies to effectively fill skilled positions. Modern youth apprenticeships such as CareerWise Colorado address the problem by changing the paradigm and helping businesses become producers of young talent rather than simply relying on an already overwhelmed education system. Apprenticeship isn't about philanthropy on the part of businesses — it's about developing a talent pipeline.

For students, youth apprenticeship is an options multiplier. Apprenticeship can be a powerful enhancement to their education or a fast-track to a middle-class career, or both.

Matching skills with needs

Apprenticeship is not a diversion from higher education, it's a rigorous education option that combines theoretical learning with practical learning that focuses career and education objectives. It can also be a direct path to high-paying, in-demand jobs in business operations, financial services, advanced manufacturing, information technology and health care.

Any student — regardless of future plans — can benefit from apprenticeship. It's a model of education that reveals multiple options to career and higher education. The program focuses on sector-based strategies that focus on matching workers' skills to support employment needs in an industry already present in our region.

This program will be transformational for business and students moving forward. Students, parents, educators, businesses and community organizations are all welcome to join and learn more about youth apprenticeship opportunities available for sophomores and juniors in Eagle County at the upcoming CareerWise Colorado Eagle County Kick Off on Wednesday, Jan. 24, from 4 to 6 p.m. at Colorado Mountain College. Learn more and register at http://www.vailvalleypartnership.com.

What can we accomplish together? So much — including providing opportunities for our students and businesses.

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