Colorado’s WORK Act grant addresses skilled worker shortage
Policy and Public Relations
One of the most important economic issues facing Colorado — and the nation — is the critical labor shortage of skilled craftsmen and women.
This skills gap or “mismatch” between employers’ needs for skilled talent and the unavailability of those specific skills within the workforce is impacting industries that are a critical part of Colorado’s future growth. They include the construction trades and the manufacturing industry.
In recent years, numerous training programs have been put in place to address the skills gap but, unfortunately, the real problem is not a lack of training opportunities. The underlying problem keeping these valuable training programs from being filled to capacity is a shift in the image of these occupations.
For older generations, an occupation in the trades, manufacturing or transportation was always been a point of pride. Today, there is a perception that the route to a rewarding career must start at a university.
In 2015, Colorado’s legislature recognized a premium on higher education resulted in many college students working toward a degree that might have little value in meeting employer expectations or in securing a rewarding career. That year, lawmakers created the Skilled Worker Outreach, Recruitment, Key Training Act – the “WORK Act,” designed to increase the awareness of and enrollment in Colorado’s skilled worker training programs.
A three-year grant was established through the WORK Act to be administered by the Department of Labor and Employment. It affords $10 million for outreach efforts and an updating of training to ensure that industry standards are being met.
Six grant recipients are currently taking proactive steps to address the skills shortage by providing outreach, and recruitment. With grant dollars provided by the WORK Act, these organizations are attracting the interest of those interested in career exploration and, ultimately, to connect some of Colorado’s most growing and vital industries with a new talent pool of workers.
Associated General Contractors of Colorado established “Construction Careers Now,” a four-week pre-apprenticeship program at Emily Griffith Technical College that introduces young people to the construction trades. During the third week of the course, students attend a hiring fair and meet contractors with career opportunities available.
Another pre-apprenticeship program was created by the Colorado Construction Institute. Their Home Builders Association Construction Skills Development Initiative introduces people to the industry. The organization’s certified graduates have 120 hours of training plus some build project experience.
The Colorado Building and Construction Trades Council has in place an Apprenticeship and Training Direct Outreach Program to assist those with an interest in exploring careers in infrastructure engineering.
Community College of Denver offers a peer-to-peer outreach program for the Transportation and Logistics Industry and Pueblo Community College has an Industrial Maintenance Apprenticeship offering an introduction to career opportunities as electricians, industrial mechanics, facilities maintenance technicians and others.
Solar Energy International has the Solar Ready Colorado which provides training, career counseling and employer networking opportunities for students interested in the rapidly growing Colorado solar industry and jobs market.
Target audiences for outreach, as required by the legislation; include populations typically underrepresented in their industry, veterans, youth, dislocated workers, ex-offenders and residents of neighborhoods impacted by large infrastructure projects in Denver.
As work continues on these six initiatives, the second cycle of the WORK Act will be rolled out in October.
“This September, as part of Workforce Development Month, we celebrate the important work of these organizations,” said Department of Labor and Employment executive director, Ellen Golombek. “These community colleges and industry groups and the organizations we will be awarding grants to in the months ahead, are ramping up the outreach, addressing the skills gap, creating a workforce that is prepared for the future and a workforce system that spreads opportunity.” ❖
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