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Colorado jobs are changing. As early as 2020, nearly 75% of employers will require some type of advanced degree. In response, the Colorado Department of Higher Education has made it a goal for 66% of adults to have a postsecondary degree by 2025. This series explores various programs that are filling the funding and support gaps to help achieve that goal.

How Will Colorado's New Office Tackle A Changing Workforce

Stephanie Daniel
William Jones is a PdM lubrication technician and second class mechanic at the Owens Corning roofing plant in Denver. He's part of the company's apprenticeship program.

Gov. Jared Polis recently signed an executive order creating the Office of Future of Work at the Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE). As outlined in a press release, this office will be a central point for the state's efforts to respond to Colorado's rapidly changing economy and workforce.

Colorado Edition co-host Henry Zimmerman spoke with KUNC's Stephanie Daniel to learn more about the new office.



ZIMMERMAN: What will this new office really do?

DANIEL: The Office of Future of Work, headed up by director Katherine Keegan, will bring different education and economic stakeholders together. The goal is to figure out how to best serve the needs of Coloradans as the workforce changes and the skills required to do these jobs change as well. The office will be working with various state agencies including the departments of Education, Higher Education, Economic Development and International Trade.

I spoke to Joe Barela, the executive director of CDLE and I asked him for an example of a changing workforce. He mentioned logistic jobs, like heavy machine operators.

So, as we think about CDL licensure and people that want to go into logistics, how do we prepare them to maybe be more tech enabled? And so as they work with self-driving vehicles, what are the skills and competencies or the jobs that will be created as that evolves that industry or occupation evolves and what are maybe the jobs that will, will not evolve and they'll have to think about upskilling or change changing industries.

ZIMMERMAN: Stephanie you've done extensive reporting on this topic, and last May produced an in-depth series called Hire Me: Educating Colorado's Changing Workforce. The state has a master plan for 66% of Colorado adults to have a postsecondary degree by 2025. Right now, it's about 57%. Your series examined the feasibility of this plan. How does the Office of the Future of Work factor into that and the disparity between the goal and what we've got right now?

DANIEL: The master plan you mentioned and the new office both address the same challenge, the workforce is changing, and jobs will demand skill sets that go beyond a high school education. More education will be needed. As part of my Hire Me series, I reported on a manufacturing company that has a hard time finding skilled mechanics. So, in partnership with a community college, it created an apprenticeship program for current employees. This type of employee investment is exactly what the Future of Work wants to encourage. Here's Barela again.

I think we need to change the paradigm and said there, 'you are never done learning and that learning needs to be connected to your career potential or your career opportunities.' And so we need to get in front of that and make sure that, you know, yes, we want our business and industries to invest in their workforce, but we also want workers and learners to know that the learning and the upskilling is something that is constant.

DANIEL: Barela said workforces have evolved in the past. We've moved from an agricultural to manufacturing and now an informational society. But this change is happening so fast there is a sense of urgency to get out in front of it and be proactive.

ZIMMERMAN: Colorado has one of the most educated workforces in the country. So, what does the state really need to do better in terms of changing demands for workers.

DANIEL: Yes. Colorado is one of the most educated states, but a lot of those workers have moved here for specific jobs. Barela told me as the cost of living increases, the number of well-educated transplants will slow down. Now what I also learned through my reporting is Colorado also has one of the highest postsecondary attainment gaps in the country. Completion rates are twice as high for white residents compared to Hispanic. This is problematic because Hispanics are the largest and fastest growth ethnic group in the state. They also make up about one third of residents under the age of 18.

Barela said the state needs to invest in residents and promote all options, certificate, two- and four-year programs.

ZIMMERMAN: What are we going to see next out of the office?

DANIEL: As I mentioned, the office is bringing together different stakeholders to create a comprehensive approach to help residents and businesses prepare for the changing jobs. The office also plans to launch a public campaign to make people aware of workforce development and training and job opportunities.

ZIMMERMAN: That's KUNC's Stephanie Daniel. Stephanie, thanks for joining us.

DANIEL: Thank you.

The “American Dream” was coined in 1931 and since then the phrase has inspired people to work hard and dream big. But is it achievable today? Graduating from college is challenging, jobs are changing, and health care and basic rights can be a luxury. I report on the barriers people face and overcome to succeed and create a better life for themselves and their families.
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