Vail Valley Partnership column: Growing our workforce key to economy
A recent Vail Daily column lamented the end of the traditional summer job, stating that “for young job seekers, there is nothing to celebrate.” The column explored various statistics and data around starter jobs providing summer workers (students) with more than a paycheck.
The lament around traditional summer job opportunities in retail (for example, an increasing shift to electronic kiosks) was echoed at a recent Vail Valley Business Forum event with Colorado’s state demographer, where attendees expressed concern about future job growth for students and young professionals as our economy shifts and workers become harder and harder to attract and retain.
Decline in ‘family age’ group
Eagle County’s population is currently one of Colorado’s youngest, but is rapidly aging. While the youth, 18 to 25, and 46 to 60-year-old segments of the population remain constant at 25 percent, 8 percent and 19 percent of the total population, respectively, state demographers are predicting a decline in the “family age” group of 26 to 45-year-olds, from almost 40 percent of the total in 2005 to about 24 percent by the year 2035. The older population, 61 and above, grows markedly, forecasted to comprise 22 percent of the total by 2035.
This demographic shift, and an increasing demand for skilled workforce across industry sectors, requires a concerted community approach to workforce development efforts. How do we compete with Utah, Texas and other states when our labor force continues to tighten?
Our unemployment rate in Eagle County is currently 1.7 percent, and statewide unemployment is 2.2 percent; a tight labor market results in businesses with open positions, and that means that we need to be intentional in our workforce development efforts.
Take a moment and imagine what Eagle County’s future would look like if we truly considered our students to be a resource. Would different decisions be made by elected officials, school systems, businesses, parents and community members?
It is our collective job to maintain our quality of life by building an environment that allows businesses to grow, expand and succeed. A key component of business growth is employee attraction and retention. A key strategy needs to be a concerted, intentional effort to grow our future workforce by viewing our students as a resource.
Various partners including Eagle County Schools, YouthPower 365, Colorado Mountain College and Vail Valley Partnership are partnering to implement this exact strategy. We are providing work and study opportunities for our students, and exposing our students to various work environments. This is a win-win for both students and our local businesses, and is an essential effort to ensure our continued economic growth into the future.
The purpose of these programs (CareerX and CareerWise) is to allow students opportunities to explore careers, learn about local businesses and develop college and career plans that fit their interests while meeting the current and future needs of the business community. Offering a broad variety of apprenticeship, internship and job shadow experiences allows students to expand their understanding of career opportunities while meeting the labor needs of our businesses.
Apprenticeships and internships offer a set of skills that help employees throughout their career. Research by economists at the University of Virginia and Middle Tennessee State University finds that those with early career work experience earn 20 percent more later in their careers than those without. Early career work experience makes a difference and helps young adults in both the short and long term.
Of equal importance, these experiences help our businesses fully staff their businesses and “grow our own” workforce; this meets both student and business needs and is a win-win for the community.
Chris Romer is president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. Learn more at http://www.vailvalleypartnership.com.