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2023 Talent Pipeline Report Policy Recommendations

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The Talent Pipeline Report provides data and strategies to inform the development of legislation and policies as well as the implementation of existing work. In 2023 Colorado has one of the top economies in the country, but the demand for qualified workers continues, and opportunities exist to equip Colorado workers and learners with the skills they need to advance and meet the needs of businesses.

Last year, Colorado dedicated $38 million to support zero cost training for early childhood and K-12 educators, fire and forestry professionals, construction workers, law enforcement officers, and nurses through the Career Advance program. The state also invested $25 million in scholarships to pursue postsecondary education and training opportunities, and $5 million to support work-based learning in high school. 

To build on this work and better meet the needs of our businesses, job seekers, workers, and learners, Colorado has identified four areas for continued focus and policy development.

Cover of the 2023 Talent Pipeline Report
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Recommendation One: Strengthen Support for Employers’ Talent Development

Our workforce development practices are only as strong as the jobs they connect Coloradans to. We recommend incentivizing talent development strategies that are evidence-based and led by employers. Strategies like on-the-job training, micro-credentialing, apprenticeship, and sector-wide collaboration help Coloradans develop the skills they need for quality careers.

A. Sector partnerships: Regional, employer-led strategies are critical to identifying and meeting the workforce needs of communities throughout our state. While there are 25 sector partnerships around the state using the model promoted by the Colorado Workforce Development Council, not every region has a local business community currently engaged in this work. COVID-19 further disrupted this practice, making it more difficult to convene existing partnerships and launch new ones. Additional incentives to engage business in these partnerships will strengthen regional economic development.

B. Apprenticeship: Earn and learn models create viable pathways into good paying jobs for many Coloradans. Apprenticeship is a solution to the skills gap in many industries because employers build the skills they are looking for by investing in the development of their employees. On-the-job training and related academic instruction also ensure that our workforce has the technical understanding to apply their skills throughout their careers. 

C. Opportunity Now: The Opportunity Now program dedicated $85 million of stimulus funds to effective talent development partnerships. To date, the program has seeded 46 talent partnerships to help local employers meet their workforce needs. An additional investment in Opportunity Now would further advance progress.

Recommendation Two: Increase the Availability of Career-connected Learning Opportunities

Colorado students need to be prepared to meet the challenges of the future economy, and those future skills need to be developed today. Early career exposure and strengthening the connections between K-12, higher education, and the workforce help students develop life long skills. Colorado can invest in the front-end in our talent pipeline by making career-connected learning more widely available. The Big Blur Task Force, established by HB22-1215 Study Of Expanding Extended High School Programs, developed recommendations to increase career-connected learning in their report released Dec. 1. The Talent Pipeline Report recommendations dovetail with that work.

A. Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness Programs: Funding Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness programs is a persistent challenge in Colorado schools. Providers and school districts deliver Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness programs, however the rate of reimbursement for delivering these programs is unpredictable. Preparing our students for what comes after K-12 is an essential function of our education system. Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness programs must have sustainable funding to support that mandate. These programs could be supported with a new categorical funding stream, modeled after the Career and Technical Act, formerly the Colorado Vocational Act of 1970, CRS 23-8-101 (Colorado CTE Categorical) or another new funding stream.

B. Career Development Incentive Program: The Career Development Incentive Program, or Career Development Success Program, provides financial incentives for school districts and charter schools that encourage high school students, grades 9-12, to complete qualified industry credential programs, pre-apprenticeships and apprenticeships, and internships. An increasing number of students are taking advantage of this program, reducing the total reimbursement rate per pupil. Increasing funding for this program and creating a more reliable amount per outcome will allow more students to graduate from high school with an industry-recognized credential.

C. Concurrent Enrollment: Research funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences and the Colorado Evaluation and Action Lab show that 82% of Colorado Concurrent Enrollment students continued in their postsecondary education compared to 77% of non Concurrent Enrollment students. Concurrent enrollment also provides students with the opportunity to earn college credit at no tuition cost to them or their families. Expanding access to concurrent enrollment opportunities helps students learn higher-level skills and credits toward a credential.

Recommendation Three: Establish a Statewide Longitudinal Data System

Colorado has committed to improving our state data systems. The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment received a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to improve workforce data quality, the Colorado Department of Higher Education received $3 million from HB22-1349 Postsecondary Student Success Data System to better analyze the value of higher education programs as they relate to outcomes, and a study on personally identifiable information or PII (where PII is stored by state agencies, entities that have access to PII stored by state agencies, and costs and processes necessary to centralize the storage and protection) mandated by HB21-1111 Consent Collection Personal Information directed the state to identify where personally identifiable information is stored by state agencies throughout Colorado. These early improvements in our state’s data infrastructure have helped responsibly modernize our technology. However, we don’t have a complete view of how investments in workforce programs provide value to learners, employers, and the state’s economy. 

A longitudinal data system is capable of following learners and earners over the course of their education and training, providing valuable insight about what practices work. Colorado has many statewide data systems and data collaboratives. However, we do not have a system that can pull workforce outcome data from multiple sources to measure the impact and value of education and training over time. Better cross agency analytics lead to more evidence-based decision making.

Recommendation Four: Invest in High-impact Opportunities

The below recommendations reflect areas where collaborative leadership in workforce development will make a critical contribution to Colorado’s future. 

A. Infrastructure Workforce: Data show Colorado currently needs 33,500 infrastructure and construction workers, with an additional 50,000 by the end of the decade. Colorado has had labor shortages in building in construction trades for decades. These labor shortages are exacerbated by an aging workforce and increased demand to deliver on federal investments and support Colorado’s housing needs. Colorado is projected to need 6,098 construction laborers alone to respond to IIJA project needs, and according to E2’s 2023 Report on Clean Jobs Colorado, 20,000 clean energy jobs are also in construction. However, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the construction industry has shrunk 2.3% in Colorado this year. 

The capacity of our infrastructure workforce will directly impact our ability to:

B. Advanced Manufacturing Workforce: Advanced manufacturing in Colorado generated $29.5 billion in economic impact. Careers in the industry span production, engineering, quality assurance, maintenance, and supply chain/logistics. There are several quality jobs within the industry that Coloradans can access without a college degree and the average annual wage for manufacturers in Colorado is 43% higher than the average annual wage for all industries. Skills in this industry support climate technology, medical devices, aerospace, broadband, and more. 

Colorado has a few opportunities that will increase the need for a high-skilled advanced manufacturing workforce: 

  • Colorado was designated an official tech hub for the quantum industry. With that designation, we earned the opportunity to compete for millions of dollars in federal funding to grow the quantum industry in Colorado.
  • Colorado will remain the home of Space Command, solidifying our place as a national leader in aerospace. This announcement will draw more investment into Colorado’s aerospace industry, and we need to develop talent to meet the forthcoming demand. 

C. Rural Workforce: Several recent state and federal investments focus on strengthening rural economies and the rural workforce. These investments have supported projects like the Colorado Rural Resiliency and Recovery Roadmap program and have advanced the state’s broadband goals. While these investments are bringing growth opportunities to Colorado’s rural communities, regional shortages in agricultural workers and veterinary services persist. Bringing the next generation of workers into the agricultural industry is important to the sustainability of rural economies and Colorado’s agricultural sector. Expanding the scope of practice for veterinary care could improve access to critical services in areas with a limited labor supply.