It’s time to develop a local labor strategy, plan

Jul 15, 2015 | Uncategorized

Rise of the part-time economy. Businesses unprepared for aging workforce. Skills shortages leave jobs unfilled. Labor force continues to shrink. Rise of the freelancers. A world without work. The American workforce advantage. Incentivizing people not to work.

These snippets come from a quick glance at my growing collection of electronic story clippings about the state of the American labor force. It’s hard to draw meaningful conclusions from them except that labor markets aren’t working well, which has adverse economic consequences.

This blizzard of national stories does reinforce what I’m hearing from Northern Colorado employers. On a daily basis the quality and availability of workers is a topic of conversation. Over the past year the frequency and urgency of these discussions has increased.

Last week a speaker from Business Leaders United told the Larimer County Workforce Investment Board that job openings created by the so-called “silver tsunami” — baby boomers retiring — will double those created through economic activity between 2012 and 2022.

Specifically, 34 million jobs will be created nationwide by boomers bailing, compared to 16.6 million from economic growth.

The speaker went on to say that during that same time, 47 percent of Colorado job openings will be so-called “middle skilled” jobs — those that require more than high school but less than a four-year college degree. Only 34 percent will be high-skilled jobs.

With that in mind, consider some of the key findings cited in an excellent study published last September by TIP Strategies for the city of Fort Collins. The “Labor Market Profile” can be found on the city’s website.

Starting with the good news: Larimer County has a high labor participation rate of 68.9 percent, compared to a national average of 63.4 percent. Note that since the study was published the national rate has fallen to 62.6 percent, a 38-year low.

Another positive is that we have a relatively young workforce thanks to Colorado State University.

Among the negative findings is that 29 occupations were identified that will be hard to fill, and there is a misalignment between the skills of area graduates and what area employers need.

As expected, each area employer is responding in a manner appropriate for their company and circumstances. Missing, however, is a countywide or even regional strategy for addressing labor force needs.

The city study I’ve cited accomplished its objective of taking a snapshot of the existing labor situation and identifying future needs. The question left unanswered, however, is what is our plan to close those gaps?

The Chamber is currently meeting with human resource directors to discuss their employers’ talent needs. Based on what we learn, we are interested in working with various community partners to craft a workforce strategy to support and augment what area employers are already doing. As a CEO, manager or HR director, if you want to participate, let me know.

Confusing and negative headlines aside, we believe we can have a positive impact on the closing the local skills gap to the mutual benefit of employers and jobseekers.

Column originally published by The Fort Collins Coloradoan July 9, 2015