'Middle-skill' jobs can help Colorado's economic recovery

By 2019, Colorado will have nearly 300,000 new openings in "middle-skill" jobs category – positions that require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year post-secondary degree. But the state does not have enough sufficiently trained workers to fill these solid, well-paying positions, according to a report released today. In fact, without increased investments in, and focus on, middle-skill education and training opportunities for adults – along with the basic skills education needed to achieve that training – Colorado will not be able to close its middle-skills gap or realize its full economic potential.

The solution is to act now in adopting a bold vision and policy framework that "cuts across agencies and programs to support a robust workforce development system that responds to the reality of today's labor market needs," according to Colorado's Forgotten Middle-Skill Jobs, released today by the National Skills Coalition in partnership with the Skills2Compete-Colorado Campaign. The Bell Policy Center is a member of the Colorado campaign's advisory committee, which includes a broad range of education, workforce, business and non-profit organizations.

The report identifies a set of four core strategies to close the middle-skills gap and achieve the state's goals:

Credential attainment: Colorado must allocate education and training resources to achieve better outcomes for workers, industries and the economy as a whole. It is more important than ever for state policymakers to support stronger collaboration across their education and training systems to collect credential data and use this data to set goals and measure progress to strengthen the workforce.

Career pathways: Career pathways adapt existing programs and services – and add new ones ­– to enable individuals to advance to successively higher levels of education and employment. Where most effective, career pathways help transform institutions and organizations involved in education, employment and social services by strengthening cooperation to improve capacity to respond to the needs of workers and employers.

Adult basic education: Colorado should adopt a bold goal – with resources to match – to significantly increase the number people served by the state's adult basic-education system so that more workers can develop the basic skills they need to enter and succeed in post-secondary education and training opportunities.

Sector partnerships: Colorado must ensure that investments in training and education are targeted to meet the full range of skill needs of local industries. Sector partnerships do this by creating capacity to organize key stakeholders connected to an industry – multiple firms, labor, education and training providers, community-based organizations, trade associations, and the workforce and education systems – to develop customized solutions for that industry at the regional level.

(The Skills2Compete-Colorado Campaign released more detailed policy recommendations in Preparing for the Future: Closing Colorado's Middle-Skills Gap.)

The Bell Policy Center has long advocated for increased education and skills-development opportunities for working adults and fully supports the proposals in the new report.  In fact, the findings on the limited support for, and reach of, adult-education programs in Colorado outlined in our Opportunity Lost: 2010 Update served as key support for the campaign's recommendations in this area.

In order for Colorado to succeed in this effort, the report concludes: "It is time for Colorado policymakers, educators, unions and businesses to unite with others ... to champion the policies and strategies necessary to ensure that Colorado recovers and thrives, and that its workforce is at the forefront of the innovation economy."


Article posted on October 24, 2011