Colorado passes Skills for Jobs Act

March 16, 2012

On March 14, the Colorado General Assembly passed the “Skills for Jobs Act”, an innovative bill designed to align Colorado’s job openings with education and training outcomes and reduce the state’s skills gap. The bill passage was Led by Rep. Daniel Kagan  (District 3) and Senator Linda Newell (District 26), with support from members of the Skills2Compete Colorado Campaign, a multi-stakeholder coalition of workforce advocates led by SkillBuild Colorado. Among others, supporters of the bill include the Bell Policy Center, Colorado Association for Career and Technical Education, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, Independent Electrical Contractors, Rocky Mountain, and other workforce advocates. The bill will soon go before the Governor Hickenlooper for signature. 

This legislation addresses a major recommendation issued by the Skills2Compete Colorado campaign when it released the report Colorado’s Forgotten Middle-Skill Jobs last year. The report projects close to 300,000 "middle-skill" job openings for Colorado by 2019, which accounts for nearly 40 percent of all job openings. Right now, middle-skills jobs make up 47 percent of all jobs in Colorado’s labor market. Yet, only 36 percent of its residents likely have the education and training for these jobs. In light of these findings, the Campaign called for better measurements for how public funding is being used to help Colorado residents obtain a broad range of credentials that meet the needs of industries across the state.

The legislation seeks to address this skills gap and meet the demand for skilled workers by requiring the Department of Higher Education, in consultation with the Department of Labor and other state agencies, to produce an annual report on projected job openings and education and the expected production of degrees, certificates and other credentials throughout the state. By doing so, Colorado policymakers can determine how well the state’s labor market demands are being met by its current degree and certificate production, and make recommendations for creating or expanding education programs of public and private institutions of higher education, private occupational schools, local district colleges, area vocational schools, high school vocational programs, apprenticeship programs, and other public or private workforce training programs expected to issue credentials over the three-year period following the report.

Colorado joins Maryland and Rhode Island who have implemented similar efforts to align credential attainment outcomes with labor market demand, otherwise known as credential measure and outcome policies. These policies encourage greater alignment between the state’s human capital programs and the occupational needs of employers. The goal is to track credential attainment across a range of public workforce and education programs in order to assess how well education and training investments meet the labor market demand for skills. Since many of these programs have historically operated in silos, policymakers typically do not see their collective outcomes and how they relate to the labor market, job openings, or the needs of business in certain industry sectors. The Colorado act, which requires the collection and analysis of this information, begins to give policymakers, employers and citizens a “snapshot” of education and training credential outcomes of their statewide “workforce system” and how this relates to labor market demand, opportunities for employment, and business competitiveness.

Maryland launched their Skills2Compete initiative in 2010 to increase the number of Marylanders who receive job training by 20 percent by 2012. The state set individual agency benchmarks for credential attainment and thereafter coordinated the collection of workforce training data across ten state agencies, twelve local workforce investment boards and sixteen community colleges. Rhode Island took a different approach by amending Section 42-102-9 of the Rhode Island State Code. This required the Governor’s Workforce Board to establish an annual statewide program and expenditure report for the coordination of all employment and training programs and related services, including assessing workforce program outcomes and measuring credentials produced. This effort also results in a yearly report to the legislature with hopes to better align the system and enhance program outcomes.

Over the last decade, many states have made significant investments to better equip workers and industries with the skills they need to compete and prosper. Whatever form these investments take, collecting credential outcome data from the education and workforce system and measuring credential outcomes, such as the Skills for Jobs Act, is essential for ensuring a strong return on such investments and unearthing more accurate information to support further planning, decision making and resource allocations.