Finding Opportunities in Health Care

The Denver metro area has a vibrant health care economy – employment has increased in this sector every year since 2004, adding over 88,420 workers. But, there are still thousands of positions in the health care industry that need to be filled.

While many educators and parents worried about the summer melt, the Denver Opportunity Youth Initiative (DOYI) was igniting new interest in the industry among students.

The Chamber affiliate, in partnership with the Greater Metro Denver Health Care Partnership, Adams County Workforce Center, Denver Workforce Services, Arapahoe Douglas Workforce Center and the Central Colorado Area Health Education Center (AHEC) provided a unique health care learning opportunity for opportunity youth, a Health Care Pre-Apprenticeship Pilot.

“We recognize that we can only accomplish large and lasting social change if we all come together,” said Jenny Smith, talent pipeline liaison for DOYI. “The Health Care Pre-Apprenticeship program brings together community-based organizations, employers and local workforce centers to accomplish a common goal of creating a training on-ramp for young adults into health care careers.”

Meeting over three weeks, youth who ranged in age from 16 to 24 explored different careers in health care, met industry professionals, participated in hands-on activities and received entry-level certifications – preparing them for the next step in a career in health care. This is the first industry they’ve focused on, with plans to move into other in-demand spaces, such as IT.

“During the program we went over soft-skill training, but the main focus was hands-on activities,” said Mitch Fittro, education and workforce manager for Central Colorado AHEC, noting the youth saw all aspects of the health care industry, touring a cadaver lab, animal research facilities and Colvaria Hospitality, while receiving first aid training and a basic lifesaving certification. “They really get to feel a part of the health care community.”

Why health care? Every year there are 4,500 different positions that go unfulfilled in the health care industry. And, not every position requires a college degree.

“Opportunity youth represent an untapped talent pool that are resilient, have often been the care-taker for one of their family members and have the grit and perseverance needed to be successful in these jobs, which is just what employers are looking for,” Smith said.

Erin Lawless, director of human resources for Colavria Hospitality, a management and consulting firm for nursing home facilities, said opportunities like the pre-apprenticeship program are a great way to engage people who are ready to learn.

“This generation of students really want to make a difference, and health care is an excellent opportunity to make a difference,” she said.

Students were able to learn about the health care industry and all of the opportunities available to them to jump start their career, and employers were able to “widen our scope of who we appeal to from a job candidate perspective,” Lawless said.

And, a spark was ignited. Students could see where their careers could go and received the tools necessary to do so.

“You can see the light bulb go on,” Fittro said. “[The students] realize what they want to do and are determined to find the steps to get themselves to that point as well.”

Creating partnerships and programs like these allow for an industry to come together to address their workforce needs, Smith said, and it allows our community to “build the smart, skilled workforce we need for our future … it enables us to move families out of poverty, fill in-demand jobs and keep Colorado’s economy strong.”


Are you a business that would like to be involved with upcoming pre-apprenticeship programs? Contact for more information.

Laura James is the senior marketing specialist for the Denver Metro Chamber.