Re-Skilling Labor

By: Maury Dobbie Issue: Energy & The Environment Section: Collaborator Profile

Collaborative, Industry-Driven Workforce Development

Re-Skilling Labor This is the year of opportunity!

Yes, there are many dismal reports of how our global, state and regional economies are hurting. No one is more aware of how this recession is affecting them than families, business owners, employees, unemployed, non-profits, governments, educational institutions, on and on. In Northern Colorado we’ve been working for two years on creating a workforce model that is industry driven and will re-skill and train our workforce for the ever-changing global economy.

Colorado State University Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory researchers work with Solix Biofuels to design a photo bioreactor economically to cultivate algae for the production of biodiesel, August 1, 2006.

We’re using a common sense and practical approach never before tried in our region. We’ve fostered a collaborative attitude that focuses on listening and being inclusive. The Northern Colorado Workforce Initiative is an example of an initiative that is proactively working to stem the negative tide of this economy. In 2007, the Northern Colorado Economic Development Corporation (NCEDC) led the charge to bring three groups into the room to talk about workforce issues: Educators, Businesses & Workforce Service Providers.

Today, this effort is driven by the Collaborative Advisory Team from both Larimer and Weld counties. We realize that one of the ways that makes our region strong is the workforce we share. This team will serve as the hub for communication and coordination in the development of a strategic plan for workforce development in the Northern Colorado region.

We don’t want to stop there, however. As we test our collaborative model in Northern Colorado, we desire to share best practices with other regions in the state. A strong state economy is one of our goals.

We’ve connected “three dots” – education, primary employers and service providers that touch workforce. Service providers such as Workforce Centers, Chambers of Commerce, Economic Development organizations, non-profits, government from both counties are now mapping how this initiative will be created for the long term alongside our primary employers and educational institutions.

For the initiative to be successful, we have to be industry driven, listening to our employers about their workforce skill gaps then acting upon that data as quickly as possible.

The workforce initiative realizes we can’t be all for everyone as we lay the foundation details. We’ve agreed to focus first on the “Energy” workforce in Northern Colorado. This includes clean and renewable, traditional energy, conservation and power industries. The future will include other industry sectors – all industry driven.

While there is optimism, there is a reality in creation of new jobs in renewable energy and energy efficiency areas. We are working with our education partners in curriculum development that will create entry-level positions up to high paying positions. Look for the official announcement of the two-year degree programs launched through Front Range Community College and the smart grid training programs through CSU. We are blessed with forward-thinking institutions and primary employers in Northern Colorado.

We realize the importance of creating career paths whereby anyone can enter the training and education path to re-skill. It is also obvious in this present economic climate there is an urgent need to get people back to work. Here is our vision and mission:

The Northern Colorado Workforce Initiative mission is to create and maintain a collaborative system among key entities (employers, educators, government, non-profits, current employees, job seekers and students) in Northern Colorado that increases our capacity for strategic workforce development.

Below are our assumptions:

Competition for jobs is global.

Availability of talent and labor supply expansion is one of the most critical factors in corporate location decisions.

The willingness of a region to integrate talent development into a comprehensive economic development approach creates a systematic advantage to business health and attracting new business.

In order to remain competitive, regional workforce talent development will need to be responsive and employer-driven.

Ongoing and frequent identification of the numbers and skill sets required by current and future employers is essential to providing useful guidance to the organizations which make up the workforce development system for curriculum development and delivery strategies.

Future demographic changes in the regional workforce will be rapid and profound. An appreciation of the pace and magnitude of these changes, cultural impacts on workforce development, and the diversity of the workforce, are crucial to developing strategy and allocating resources.

Personal, government, corporate, and institutional financial resources will be constrained by economic conditions for the foreseeable future. As workforce development demand continues to increase, future solutions will require strategic use of limited public and private resources.

Decision authority of key players in the workforce development system is, and will continue to be, widely dispersed. Effective collaboration within a non-hierararchial structure using shared decision-making is essential.

The future deliverables for this team will be to initiate a number of industry work groups with the focus on “energy” jobs. A strategic plan should be written and complete by spring 2009. In tandem to this important foundational work, curriculum is being developed with the help of employers.

While there are many opinions that abound when it comes to the stimulus package being voted on from Washington, DC I haven’t heard anyone disputing the need for families accessing good paying jobs. Those who understand business, support the notion that small business is the backbone of our country and companies of all sizes need a skilled workforce.

All jobs and all industry sectors are important to Northern Colorado. When you hear many of us talking about the opportunities in the “green collar” industry, we also know the importance of a thriving diversity in multiple industries in our region. Many states are claiming they are or will be the capital of clean and renewable energy. Colorado is focused on the energy economy as one of our strong sectors. Northern Colorado has an excellent opportunity to be a large player in creating the businesses in the energy economy as well as the workforce that will be needed.

The renewable energy and energy efficiency industries represented more than 9 million jobs and $1,045 billion in U.S. revenue in 2007. 95 percent of the jobs are in private industry. This is according to a new report offering the most detailed analysis of the green economy by the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) based in Boulder. ASES partnered with Management Information Services, an internationally recognized economic research firm based in Washington D.C. to print the new ASES Green Collar Jobs report.

According to this report, the renewable energy industry grew three times as fast as the U.S. economy. Solar thermal, photovoltaic, biodiesel and ethanol sectors lead the way, each with 25%+ annual revenue growth. Their conservative estimates believe the green job forecast is for more than 16 million jobs and $1,966 billion in revenue in the U.S. by 2030.

Northern Colorado is well poised to benefit.

The hot job areas include electricians, mechanical engineers, welders, metal workers, construction managers, accountants, analysts, environmental scientists and chemists. Hey, this may give many of you hope for future jobs!

Here’s another plus. Renewable energy and energy efficiency can create millions of well-paying jobs, many of which are not subject to foreign outsourcing. The good news is these jobs are in two categories that every state is eager to attract – college-educated professional workers and highly skilled technical workers.

The Northern Colorado Workforce Initiative is working diligently to re-skill workers. We are well positioned for training our workforce in a cluster industry that is gaining considerable attention. We also know the need is urgent in these times.

While there is plenty of bad news, there is also a lot going on in our state and region with positive implications. Let us focus on what we can control and affect. We optimistically believe this is the year of opportunity. Additionally, we believe in the “can do” spirit of cooperation and collaboration. None of us can accomplish such a big task as workforce development alone. All parties must be at the table discussion what can be done to shape the future of our state’s economy.

Stay tuned and stay positive – we need each other!

Maury Dobbie is President/CEO of the Northern Colorado Economic Development Corporation. To learn more about the Northern Colorado Workforce Initiative visit