Talent, Found.

Colorado Leads in Race to Train, Attract and Keep Strong Workforce

In a knowledge-based economy, talent drives success.

As businesses compete for that talent and look for ways to stand out from the competition, a number of organizations have emerged to help companies find the right talent at the right time. Unsurprisingly, many of those organizations are popping up in Colorado – a place known not only for its low unemployment (which in October dropped to a historic low of 2.6% statewide and 2.3% in Metro Denver) – but also for an entrepreneurial spirit that drives innovation.

Meet the Chamber investors who are betting that their talented teams can help others grow, attract and retain the workers they need, now and into the future.

Growing Talent with Apprentices – in Unexpected Industries

Homegrown talent is a coveted asset for any business, and CareerWise Colorado is helping businesses – particularly those in areas of tech, professional services and health care – explore apprenticeship as a way to grow that talent.

In November, CareerWise and the Chamber announced a partnership to provide 100 modern youth apprenticeship opportunities in 2020.

“Workforce innovation starts with the Chamber,” said CareerWise CEO Noel Ginsburg. “The membership is already leading the way on a number of development and advocacy issues. With this partnership we hope to harness that leadership and supercharge the momentum we’ve been building around youth apprenticeship since we launched three years ago.”

CareerWise apprentices are already onsite with more than 100 companies in modern job functions such as financial services, business operations and IT. Apprenticeship is a work-based learning model that prepares workers to step into full-time roles by having them perform meaningful, productive work and complete related classroom instruction.

“As you think about the future of work and the future of workers, how do we bring the right people with the right kind of training to the fore so that we can continue to thrive as businesses in a vastly changing business environment?” asked Pinnacol Assurance CEO Phil Kalin.

That’s where apprenticeship has come in – and Pinnacol has apprentices serving 23 departments, from customer service to IT.

“CareerWise is bringing together our companies and our youth to create more pathways to meaningful careers – that’s a win-win,” said Chamber President and CEO Kelly Brough. “We have to make a systemic change in our educational system where we recognize that earning while we are learning is a powerful way to meet our future workforce needs.”

Creating a More Inclusive Hiring Process

In an age of ever-evolving technology and disruption, employers are finding they not only must innovate in their work but also in how they recruit their workforce.

Organizations like Skillful and Checkr are helping businesses rethink their hiring processes to build stronger teams.

“Given the labor shortage in the U.S., we see an increasing appetite among our companies across many different industries to expand the talent pools that they’re looking at and think about nontraditional sources of talent,” said David Patterson, HQ2 site lead and head of communications for Checkr, a San Francisco-based background check company that announced its expansion to Colorado in April.

Checkr uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to bring more people, including those with criminal backgrounds, into searches for open positions. While companies still have the ultimate control over their search criteria, Patterson says Checkr’s process is more data-driven and reduces bias in the hiring process.

“(Businesses) can have a more open or a more inclusive hiring process for specific roles based on business needs, and once they make that effort to hire a broader, more diverse candidate pool, they often find that what we call ‘fair-chance’ employees … tend to be very loyal, very talented,” Patterson said.

Skillful is also helping businesses, particularly small- to medium-sized businesses, “to recruit, hire and retain a skilled workforce, and the way we do that is a skill-based approach,” said Jacob Vigil, Skillful’s senior manager of its employer initiative.

That means helping employers understand what skills or experiences are needed for a job, rather than focusing just on an applicant’s credentials. Skillful helps employers reframe their hiring process, from how to write a job description or conduct an interview to onboarding and retention strategies.

“It reduces bias and creates more equitable job markets that filter in for jobs rather than filtering out,” Vigil said.

Colorado is the first place that Skillful, an initiative of the Markle Foundation, has deployed a team. It was a decision that made perfect sense given the low unemployment rate and high demand for talent, Vigil said. And, they have partnered with the Chamber to share these tools with more businesses.

“Employers are more open to looking at new ways to widen their talent pool and fill those roles, so this makes (Colorado) a perfect test bed for developing and employing new practices and talent management tools,” Vigil said.

Since launching in Colorado in 2016, Skillful has trained more than 2,400 employers along with 70 career coaches who serve some 5,700 job seekers. They also have expanded to Indiana and launched a network with 27 states, which means lessons from Colorado are being used to inform workforce development in much of the rest of the country.

Creating Opportunities for Ongoing Learning

Renewable learning is emerging as an essential behavior for workers, and according to Pew Research Center, 87% of workers believe that ongoing training is what will ensure they keep up with our changing workplace.

It’s not a bad bet, considering that human knowledge is doubling every 13 months and IBM anticipates that in the coming years the volume of information will double every 11 hours. But the challenge remains that some 88 million Americans need reskilling and upskilling.

Enter Guild Education. The Denver-based company has taken the traditional corporate tuition reimbursement program and layered technology, coaching and a broad array of academic opportunities – ranging from high school diplomas to four-year degrees – to enable frontline workers at Fortune 1000 companies like Chipotle and Walmart to get the education they need to advance and grow.

“At Guild we’re bringing employers and universities together to give everyone a chance to succeed in higher education and prepare for the future of work,” said Zoe Weintraub, Guild’s vice president of business development and communications. “Guild’s higher education programs offer a win-win for employers and their employees.”

Their data shows that employees pursuing their degrees through Guild are 2.7 times more likely to retain at work than their peers and 44% more likely to receive a pay raise than their peers. Meanwhile, employers using Guild stand out from others – and have seen a 20-25% increase in job applicants after launching a partnership with Guild.

Why Colorado?

As companies like Guild and Checkr help others grow their talent, they say Colorado is the perfect place to grow their businesses.

Just this year, Guild has grown to more than 400 employees, expanding 120%, Weintraub said. The company also reached a $1 billion valuation, one of the few led by a woman – Colorado native Rachel Carlson.

“Rachel recognized Denver’s entrepreneurial spirit and knew it was a place where a budding business could thrive,” Weintraub said.

Patterson agreed, noting that Checkr chose Denver because of its collaborative nature, great business climate, and, most important, “there’s a really strong, homegrown talent pool.”

Need to grow your business’ talent?

Partner with the Chamber and CareerWise to develop your talent pipeline through modern apprenticeships. CareerWise will help recruit, develop a training plan based on your needs and serve as a support as you launch your apprenticeship. Learn more: Contact Sammy Smith at sammy.smith@denverchamber.org or 303-620-8050.

Looking for a resource as you evaluate your hiring process? Join the Chamber and Skillful for its Talent Series, which kicks off Jan. 30. The series is complimentary for Gold members and above. Learn more or register at denversbdc.org/skillful.

Sara Crocker is the communications manager for the Denver Metro Chamber.