The Colorado Workforce Development Council recently released its latest Talent Pipeline Report, which explores supply and demand trends regarding talent, and strategies on closing the gap and strengthening the pipeline to a skilled and relevant workforce. As certain jobs are being automated, several require increasingly higher levels of technological knowledge and employers value technical and professional skills. The report emphasizes that jobs are evolving faster than ever due to technological innovations, and the importance for Coloradans of all ages to continue learning and adapting to these changes.
Colorado is often lauded for a strong economy and highly educated workforce. However, it is also important to recognize that each region of Colorado has a distinct economic situation, with a unique blend of talent-related challenges and successes. This report explores issues related to the supply and demand of talent in Colorado.
As in previous reports, we explore “Top Jobs,” high-demand, high-growth jobs that pay a good wage. We continue to look at two earnings tiers: a higher-earnings tier that includes jobs meeting a living wage for a family of three with one working adult (Tier 1) and a lower-earnings tier that includes jobs meeting a living wage for an individual (Tier 2).
Tier 1 job openings are largely concentrated in healthcare practitioners and technical roles, business/finance, IT occupations, and in management positions. Even though there are regional wage differences in the fields in which Tier 1 jobs are concentrated, many healthcare practitioners and technical occupations often still make the top of regional lists across the state. Nearly all new entrants in this tier have education or training beyond high school, including degrees, certificates or work-based learning (WBL) experiences.
Tier 2 job openings are largely concentrated in construction, office and administrative support, healthcare support and food-preparation and serving occupations. This tier offers far more opportunity for entry for workers without education or training beyond high school.
While no one can predict the future, one thing we know for sure is that the workplace in Colorado will continue to change. While some jobs are being automated, many are requiring increasingly higher levels of technological literacy to operate more advanced systems and procedures. Employers highly value both technical and professional competencies, and in recent decades, fields experiencing job growth are requiring cognitive skills as well as social skills that are both high level. Perhaps more than ever before, it is important for Coloradans of all ages to maintain a fluid skills mindset, as jobs are evolving faster than ever due to technological innovations.
While Colorado has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country at 2.4 percent, there is variation in this rate by region as well as variation in the share of residents that participate in the labor market. While many Colorado businesses are experiencing a talent pipeline crisis (not able to fill open jobs with qualified skilled talent), there is still untapped talent in Colorado. Unemployment rates are higher for various segments of the population, such as those with disabilities, those with a criminal record and youth. There are also over 400,000 Colorado adults with some postsecondary education, but no credential, connecting these individuals to training in high demand skills could put them on a path to the middle class while helping to close the skills gap for employers.
Colorado continues to be an attractive state to outsiders, gaining just over 60,000 residents in 2016, although this growth has largely been experienced along the Front Range. While Colorado’s lifestyle, family friendliness and collegial atmosphere rank high with our talent, when surveyed, Colorado’s talent is feeling the impact of the rising cost of housing/living.
Our state is also facing demographic shifts. While the aging population is supporting the existence of about 240,000 jobs in the state through spending, it is also leading to the loss of highly experienced talent for many fields through retirement. While our state has a highly educated workforce relative to the national average, many racial or ethnic minorities do not have high levels of educational attainment. This is not just an education issue, but an economic issue, as our fast-growing Hispanic population, in particular, is changing the
makeup of our workforce.
As a state always at the ready to collaborate, Colorado is actively engaged in a range of strategies supporting the development of talent. Strategies focused on better aligning the skills of our workforce with employer demand include:
- Colorado’s Sector Strategies Network: This growing network now includes over 700 businesses involved with 23 regional partnerships across the state, a consortium of state trade associations and 19 local workforce boards.
- Industry-Driven Career Pathways Systems: This strategy and online tool for career-pathway development ensures that education, training and workforce systems stay attuned and responsive to the needs of the labor market; in 2016-17 the focus was on healthcare and construction fields, while forthcoming pathways include business operations and cyber-security. Focusing on these critical occupations is key to addressing the talent pipeline crisis.
- Expansion of Industry-Recognized Credentials: An expanded credential system has great potential to improve our ability to promote and identify viable pathways to prosperity for Coloradans by creating common and recognized terminology that bridges the education and workforce communities. Additionally, programs that result in credentials allow high school students to be ready for their next step to get a job in Colorado and earn a living wage. Thousands of Colorado students are graduating with an industry credential in one hand and a high school diploma in the other. An example of a state program that encourages credential attainment is the Career Success Pilot Program that awards monetary incentives to school districts based on the number of students who complete qualifying industry credentials that are aligned with Top Jobs.
- Engagement with Work-based Learning (WBL): These initiatives include the expansion of adult and youth apprenticeships, internships and on-the-job training (OJT).
- 2Gen Approach: Two-generation strategies align a variety of programs and services for children and adults to serve the whole family with a goal of achieving long-term self-sustainability and economic security.