Vail Daily column: Workforce development efforts paramount | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Workforce development efforts paramount

The Colorado Workforce Center recently sent a newsletter that was both poignant and insightful regarding our regional workforce needs and unemployment levels.

Specifically, they ask the question of "isn't low unemployment a good thing? Shouldn't we shoot for zero unemployment?" This is a great question, and on a surface level it makes sense. After all, wouldn't it be great if everyone who wanted to work had a job? Isn't that the purpose of our workforce system?

The reality is, of course, that not all workers and jobs are interchangeable. You can't take someone with no medical training and hire them to be chief neurosurgeon at the local hospital. In addition, if all the jobs are filled, then how do we provide the opportunity for workers to advance in their careers and earnings? Availability in the labor market is essential to allow for mobility of workers and to ensure employers can attract skilled candidates. Very low unemployment can also drive inflation, as employers compete by paying artificially high wages in a tight market.

For these reasons, most economists agree that unemployment is best at around 3 percent for persons over 20 and 4 percent for those over 16. (Trivia tidbit, this is actually spelled out in a federal law from 1978, The Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act). Unemployment in most counties across the Interstate 70 corridor in the month of September, however, was below 3 percent. The unemployment rate was 2.1 percent in Summit County, 2.4 percent in Lake County, 2.5 percent in Eagle County, 2.9 percent in Pitkin County and 3.1 percent in Garfield County. The state's overall unemployment rate in September was 3 percent.

This poses a real challenge for local economies as we now in the middle of the winter, the most demanding season in our part of the state. As our Rural Consortium Director, Clarke Becker, is fond of saying, "If business isn't hiring, there is little we can do to help a job seeker." But what about in this situation when the shoe is on the other foot? When labor supply is short, what can the workforce center do to help businesses find the employees they need?

Here to Help

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Fortunately, there is a lot we can do. Your local workforce center is ideally suited to tap into the labor supply that is available in your community and to support them through opportunities like career coaching, skill upgrades, and on-the-job training. Through our area boards and partnerships, we help to inform community-wide dialogue around other pertinent workforce related issues such as availability of housing and childcare. The workforce system is a great matchmaker; when a business and a potential employee need that extra support to find a connection, the workforce system is here to help.

Jessica Valand, Director of the Northwest & Rural Resort Workforce Areas, Colorado Rural Workforce Consortium shared the above stats and details, and it is relevant to our continued efforts at Vail Valley Partnership.

VVP remains focused on workforce development — an issue identified by our board of governors as a strategic priority for our community — because our workforce is vital to business success. Business success, of course, it vital to our continued economic vitality — and quality of life begins with a good job.

Providing for Future Success

Some thoughts to ponder as we collectively look ahead at how to remain a viable and thriving community with career opportunities for students & professionals, as well as an environment that allows for entrepreneurial opportunities and success:

Can we compete for best and brightest?

Can we manage growth in high and low skill/wage service jobs — bifurcation?

How does disparate growth across state impact our resort region?

How do we ensure opportunities for all as we become more racially/ethnically diverse?

Are we set to cope with opportunities and challenges of an aging population?

How could downward pressure on household income impact our community?

Vail Valley Partnership is actively engaged with numerous partners including the Workforce Center, Colorado Mountain College, Youth Power 365, Eagle County Schools, among others – to help answer these questions and to engage the business community in meaningful ways to address our talent pipeline.

Our efforts are aligned with the Eagle County Economic Development Plan (adopted in February 2016) and is important to businesses across industry sector in all geographic regions of our county. We are happy to be part of the solution in providing opportunities for our students, and to meet the needs of our business community.

Chris Romer is president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership.