The benefits of investing in workforce development

Enhancing the skills of our workforce will allow more of the state’s residents to get back to work

Like a tornado indiscriminately ripping through a town, the pandemic left some sectors of Colorado’s economy devastated and others untouched. The recovery seems to be following a similar path, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

While the state has regained 57% of the 375,000 jobs lost during the peak of the pandemic, positions in low-wage (and hard hit) industries like hospitality, retail and food service have been slow to return. The Opportunity Insights Economic Tracker, showed that as of February, high-wage employment in Colorado had grown by 6.6%, but low-wage employment ($27,000 and less) declined 16%.

If we want to address these disparities and rebuild the state’s economy in a more inclusive way, we’ll need to invest in workforce development. Enhancing the skills of our workforce will not only allow more of the state’s residents to get back to work, but will also make it easier for individuals to obtain jobs in higher-paying sectors.

Businesses can play a critical role in this effort by supporting community-wide workforce development initiatives and building internal programs designed to upskill employees and provide career pathways.

Here are a few strategies to consider:


A well-thought out workforce development strategy should not only close the skill gaps of current employees, but should also focus on building much-needed skills that might be lacking in the talent pipeline. Apprenticeships – which give students the opportunity for specialized, workplace experience, while taking courses – provide a great way for employers to equip potential recruits with specific skills to meet the organization’s needs and allow students to earn as they learn.

The first step is to identify an industry-specific or skills-specific apprenticeship program that addresses your particular skill gap. Industry associations can serve as a good source of information. The Colorado Workforce Development Council also offers a directory highlighting a wide array of options like CareerWise, which offers multi-year programs in such diverse areas as financial services and information technology. Some federally and state-funded programs offer tax credits or grants to offset the cost of wages provided to apprentices.

Community colleges and universities can also be good potential partners. Activate recently joined forces with Metropolitan State University to place rising seniors with Colorado Concern employers for year-long workplace learning experiences, supplemented with professional development training from our team. The goal is to transition students into full-time positions once they graduate.

If you don’t find a program that aligns with your goals, you can also start one of your own. Apprenticeship Evolution provides resources on how to create a registered apprenticeship model.

Career Pathways

Employees – especially those in lower-wage positions – often know little about how to advance within their organizations. A 2016 survey of more than 3,000 retail workers conducted by the economic advancement initiative Earn Dallas found that 34% didn’t know that career advancement opportunities were available at their companies.

Establishing and communicating career pathways for all employees is crucial in helping workers in entry-level jobs understand their options and what they need to do to move up the ladder. The process starts by ensuring that you have an effective onboarding process that sets employees up for success.

Clearly explain your policies on performance reviews, job postings and the process for promotions. Assigning a mentor who they don’t directly report to, but can help them navigate challenges and set goals, is also crucial, particularly for employees unfamiliar with working in a professional environment. Y

You may also consider offering job rotations after employees are well-established to allow them to experience new roles. These opportunities help you retain your best entry-level employees by giving them a pathway to move to higher-level positions in the company.


Employees often need to expand their skills in order to advance. For workers who lack the resources to return to school, receiving on-the-job training is vital in helping them bridge the gap and grow their careers.

Amazon, for example, is spending $700 million to re-train workers across the company in high-demand areas like machine learning and cloud computing. The company reports that more than half of the employees who have taken advantage of the program so far are from underrepresented minority groups.

A number of companies have popped up to help companies supply education programming, including Denver-based Guild Education, which coordinates access to degree programs and industry certificates for Fortune 1000 companies.

For smaller firms, lower-cost solutions like Pluralsight, which offers online IT skills training and LinkedIn Learning, a division of the online job searching platform that provides online courses on a variety of subjects, might be a better fit. County workforce centers also offer funding for training and certifications that help workers advance to higher levels in your organization.

Don’t forget to factor soft skills into the equation. In our work, we often find that individuals looking to make the transition into long-term career roles struggle with things like communication and time management, which can interfere with their ability to advance.

Offering soft skills training will allow a bigger portion of your workforce to succeed in their career path.

Through workforce development, employers can help level the playing field and enable more of our state’s workers to achieve economic freedom. Increasing upskilling options and participating in apprenticeship program will not only provide you with a better trained, better performing workforce, but will help us achieve a more equitable state economy.

Helenhayes Hs Large Helen Young Hayes is founder and CEO or Activate Workforce Solutions, a talent acquisition agency that creates pathways to self-sufficiency through successful, sustained employment.

Categories: Business Insights, Management & Leadership