Invest in the potential of Denver students

When business invests in educational opportunities, everybody wins

Denver has been the buzz of the business media over the last several years for its growing reputation as an emerging tech hub—and rightly so; its unique combination of excellent schools, business resources, and lifestyle is giving Silicon Valley a run for its money.

One big reason why Denver’s tech scene is thriving is a wealth of local talent bolstered by an innovative tech community that encourages communal learning. A lot of that magic has to do with concerted efforts to integrate STEM curriculum into K-12 programs, especially with the support of local STEM-based companies.

While it’s heartening to see that these efforts might be starting to make a difference, it also makes me wonder about the bigger picture. After all, what kind of amazing things could our communities and businesses achieve if this kind of support could be rallied from ALL Denver-based organizations—regardless of industry?

As a member of the BEL Commission for the Colorado Workforce Development Council, I know that there’s a lot of room for improvement in this endeavor. Our research shows that Denver schools, government agencies, and industries all operate within separate silos, with sporadic interconnectivity or collaboration. Businesses serve as advisors to schools on a very limited basis, so once students receive their traditional classroom educations and graduate, they’ve had little to no contact or experience with navigating (and succeeding) in a business, trade, or industry environment.

Giving students a foundation for success beyond the classroom means priming them with the skills and experience they need to grow and contribute—and this absolutely requires the commitment of local businesses and communities that hope to harness this potential talent for the growing economy.

When businesses become actively engaged with the educational system, and all students (especially those who might otherwise be overlooked for—or unaware of—key opportunities) are given the chance to expand their work-based learning opportunities, everybody wins. Not only will students be more prepared for life outside of school, they’ll be more employable, more skilled, and better positioned to give back and do their part to continue to drive the local economy forward.

This model works. When we ask ourselves what can happen when businesses and educational systems partner up and work toward a common goal, we only need to look at the enormous gains countries like Switzerland are achieving with vocational education and training (VET) systems. Switzerland, which focuses on career education for all types of industries, attributes much of its economic strength to this model. With VET reforms in play, the Swiss have experienced:

●      99 percent secondary education completion rate

●      2.4 percent youth unemployment rate

●      3.2 percent country-wide unemployment rate

●      Average 30 percent higher earnings for apprenticeship graduates in equivalent professions

●      $80,000+ GDP per capita, with virtually no poverty

Who provides support for these Swiss vocational programs? The majority is companies and industry associations—the same ones hoping to nurture, develop, and employ the next generation of skilled workers that drive their country’s continued economic prosperity. It’s also worth noting that these figures represent more than 8 million people; just imagine what great strides could be made in a community the size of Denver.

The BEL Commission believes that every Colorado business should have access to a skilled workforce, and every Coloradan access to meaningful employment. Ensuring that every student has access to essential, integrated education and job training is crucial to the success of this vision; the support and sponsorship of Denver-based businesses is even more so.

We have so much talent right here in our own backyard—it’s why the STEM industries are building integrated communities that nurture this talent from the ground up. Now it’s up to the rest of our Denver-based organizations to follow suit. Let’s give that talent the support it needs to grow and thrive across all the industries that make Denver great.

Categories: Tech, Web Exclusives