Vail Daily column: Workforce pipeline efforts key to continued economic success | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Workforce pipeline efforts key to continued economic success

Vail Valley Partnership's board of governors has identified workforce development as a key strategic priority area. The reality of our rural resort economy raises a variety of important questions, including can we compete for best and brightest employees? Can we maintain and grow our economic and amenity advantages despite inherent challenges? Can we proactively manage growth with a bifurcation between high and low skill and wage service jobs? How does disparate growth across the state impact us? Are we set to cope with opportunities and challenges of an aging population?

Nationally, the high school graduation rate is 83 percent, with an average of 63 percent matriculating directly from high school to college. From there, graduation rates from four-year institutions hover near 60 percent. Essentially, for every 100 students in high school, only about 31 will go on to complete a four-year degree. Said differently, currently only 31 percent of the population has access to what Americans believe is necessary to be a competent employee in the industries that drive the nation's economy, and have a reasonable standard of living.

Local Graduation Rate

Eagle County Schools graduation rate is 77.1 percent (compared to a state average of 73.9 percent). Of the graduates, the percent of students who plan to attend college is 77 percent. Extrapolating this further, the national graduation rate for four-year institutions is 60 percent (while difficult to isolate to an individual county, the best guess is that we are fairly consistent with the national numbers).

Eagle County Schools graduation rate is 77.1 percent (compared to a state average of 73.9 percent). Of the graduates, the percent of students who plan to attend college is 77 percent. Extrapolating this further, the national graduation rate for four-year institutions is 60 percent (while difficult to isolate to an individual county, the best guess is that we are fairly consistent with the national numbers).

Recommended Stories For You

So, of 100 local students:

• 77 graduate high school

• 60 go on to college

• 36 graduate with a four-year degree

Only 36 percent of the population achieves what we traditionally believe to be the ticket to the middle class — a four-year college education.

Rapidly Aging Population

Related to the high school graduation rates and our future workforce needs, 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.

Redefining Success

These facts and projections beg the question: is it time to develop meaningful career pathways and workforce programs to help redefine success for our students (and our businesses who will increasingly rely on these students to meet our workforce needs)?

We believe a concerted, coordinated and collaborative community approach to workforce development efforts and future business growth are required in order to meaningfully address our impending demographic shifts, the increasing demand for skilled workforce across industry sectors, at the same time creating opportunities for students.

Vail Valley Partnership is focused on the economic vitality of the valley, and strives to lead collaborative efforts for community success. Workforce development efforts are in many ways the epitome of collaboration. The Partnership is actively involved and engaged in a variety of workforce efforts, including serving on the Rural Workforce Consortium board, Northwest Colorado Council of Governments economic development district and Colorado Mountain College advisory council. We engage and are involved in these efforts because we believe workforce development is important to our business community.

Welcome, Erik Williams

We are also increasingly focused on workforce development through our new director of community development, Erik Williams. In this position, Williams is primarily responsible for providing collaboration to work across public and private sectors to develop professional development and workforce development programs. Williams will also be working to drive business community engagement via developing, implementing, and analyzing programs and community engagement in alignment with the Vail Valley Partnership strategic plan.

Intriguing Opportunity

Eagle County Schools, Colorado Mountain College, YouthPower365 and Vail Valley Partnership (among other community groups) have been engaged and involved in numerous efforts to date including job shadowing and internship programs. Moving forward, an intriguing opportunity exists with CareerWise Colorado; 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. Moving forward, this must be a joint effort that includes not only the education community but also the local nonprofit and business community.

Stay Tuned

Stay tuned for more information as we work on innovative and impactful programs to provide new pathways to students while at the same time addressing our significant workforce challenges.

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