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Workforce development

Job measures aim to work wonders

Package of legislation could help Coloradans clear hurdles, make career transitions, gain entry to trades


Colorado's economy has had one of the best recoveries from the 2008 recession in the country, with an unemployment rate almost 2 percentage points lower than the national average. But that's difficult to believe when one is still looking for a job.

Ernie Navarette experienced that firsthand when he found himself changing careers after years in the technical arena.

"I sort of fell into that industry because of the training I received in my time in the Navy," Navarette said. "My career in that field ran its course, and I had an epiphany that it was time to change careers."

The situation has improved for a large number of job seekers in Colorado. The state's unemployment rate was 3 percent in February, the most recent month data was available. That was the lowest figure since March 2001, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. The national jobless rate in February was 4.9 percent.

Despite the numbers, it can be extremely frustrating for those still searching. Navarette is one of many who found themselves seeking employment in uncertain times.

"We deal with anger and tears every day," said Joel Parroitt, business services supervisor at the Adams County Workforce and Business Center. "So often, I think people are just looking for the wrong job - they're looking at jobs that need more experience or have different background requirements."

With Colorado's economic improvement, more people aren't looking for just any job - they're looking for better jobs.

"I was pregnant with my daughter and aspired to be able to provide for her. I felt that I needed a career, not just a job in order to do this," wrote Rita Erickson, a former Red Rocks Community College student and now employee, in an email interview."I have worked several jobs in the retail, service and restaurant industry, and been stuck in positions within organizations, and surrounded by people that hated their jobs, but stayed because of their limited skill set."

Denver-area legislators from both major parties and both chambers, including Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp, D-Arvada, and Sen. Mark Scheffel, R-Parker, are sponsoring measures in the 10-bill Colorado Ready to Work package this session to eliminate as many barriers to employment as possible.

Bills include HB16-1287, which directs the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment to study ways to increase use of apprenticeship programs, and HB16-1290, which extends the ReHire Colorado program. This program provides job training to help seekers find employment and transition off government assistance.

"Within the next five years, we're going to lose employees at places like Xcel and the oil and gas industry because of age, and that's going to affect all of us," Kraft-Tharp said. "There's been so much encouraging kids to go to a four-year institution, but we need to let them know they can have a good career outside of those kinds of schools."

Resources like the Adams County Workforce and Business Center, the American Job Center in Jefferson County and the Arapahoe/Douglas Works! Workforce Center help employers connect with job seekers. They also help seekers with everything from their resumes and interview skills to workshops and job fairs.

"Part of our message is there's no 'one-size-fits-all' candidate," said Timothy Galloway, supervisor of business services at the American Job Center. "Every position has unique qualifications, and you have to match that with their personal skills and attributes."

Both Erickson and Navarette opted to expand their career options by attending classes at Red Rocks Community College, and eventually found work at the college. Erickson is in the College Gateway program and helps formerly incarcerated people get an education and career, and Navarette is coordinator of recruitment for the school. They are both also working on further degrees.

"While I was attending Red Rocks, I was working a primarily full-time job and on my days off I would attend classes and work my part-time job on campus," Erickson said. "I had a busy life and Red Rocks' flexible schedule options allowed me to attend school when I could fit it into my schedule."

For job seekers who don't need as much schooling and are close to obtaining the schooling or certifications they need, there is the national Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, signed into law in 2014. The act provides assistance - financial, training and support - for those nearly finished with the necessary training.

In his recruiting job, Navarette sees people all the time who are unaware of the resources available to them for returning to school and finding a job.

"There are so many ways to get support and resources," he said. "People need to get over the 'it's-too-late' feeling, and get out there."

Workforce development package:

Colorado workforce demand in focus

Colorado students prep for job market

Job measures aim to work wonders

Educators taking wider view of creating workforce

A new level of expertise and education


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