Vail Valley Partnership column: Facing our workforce challenges head-on

Chris Romer
Vail Valley Partnership

The State Demography Office projects Colorado’s population to exceed 5.9 million by the year 2020 and 6.4 million by 2025, with continued peaks and valleys of economic change. By 2014, Eagle County’s population is forecast to increase to more than 90,000, and jobs in Eagle County are forecast to increase to more than 59,000 by this same time. The increase equates to an increase of almost 24,000 jobs.

Our labor force consists in large part of baby boomers (37 percent of the labor force); boomers are staying longer in the workforce in part because they want to continue to work and in part because they need to work. Despite this, approximately 1,000,000 workers in Colorado will age out over the next 20 years.

This creates demands on our local labor force. Demands will vary by industry, yet the same basic trend holds true across industry sectors. Sectors as diverse as finance, education, construction, health, utilities, government, culinary and hospitality are already facing workforce challenges.

Our aging population, and an increasing demand for skilled workforce across industry sectors, requires a concerted community approach to workforce development efforts. Future growth is driven by demand for jobs. To address this, it is incumbent upon the community to continue to build a business-friendly environment, making Eagle County an attractive place to conduct business by creating a solid workforce-development pipeline.

So, how exactly to do we accomplish this goal? What can be done to support businesses, to create an environment that builds career pathways for our students, to build our future workforce in a meaningful way?

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Vail Valley Partnership is working to address our workforce challenges head on. Our research shows that local businesses that report plans to expand and/or diversify increased in 2015-16 and are at the highest level in the past four years. We also know that more than 50 percent of local businesses have open positions.

We are thrilled to be working with numerous community partners, including Eagle County Schools, Colorado Mountain College, YouthPower365 and the business community, to launch CareerWise here in Eagle County.

CareerWise is a nonprofit organization focused on developing a robust apprenticeship program in Colorado that addresses the needs of businesses and students. By serving as an intermediary working with businesses, educators and students, we are creating a program that provides all involved with numerous benefits. Students completing the apprenticeship will gain real-world skills and credentials that provide them with options to enter the workplace in a high-paying job or continue their education. In this program, businesses play a large role in building their own skilled and loyal workforce.

CareerWise coordinates apprenticeships among businesses, students and educators that create opportunities for long-term impact. Today, the burden of educating the newest members of Colorado’s workforce falls directly on our schools, and that is something that needs to change — this needs to be a joint effort.

CareerWise apprenticeships will break down financial barriers, create a highly skilled workforce that meets the complex demands of Colorado companies and provide multiple options for the student upon successful completion of the program. It is a robust, business-led apprenticeship program that meets the needs of all students will put our schools and businesses on a path towards success.

Big issues such as workforce development require an intentional, coordinated effort. We are thrilled to help bring this program to the community and are committed to building an apprenticeship program to support both our students and our businesses. This is not an easy fix; it is a process. We’re fortunate to have the right organizations at the table to address it.

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

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