Scott J. Sternberg
Executive Director, Boulder Economic Council
In my position with the Boulder Chamber, it is my privilege to interact with our regional businesses to learn about their future development plans and support needs. While there are many important concerns business leaders highlight, from high housing costs to commute challenges, inevitably the conversation gravitates towards workforce development issues. More specifically, our businesses are grappling with the growing skills gap.
From an employer’s perspective, the skills gap refers to the disparity between the skills an employer expects their employees to have and the actual skills they bring to the table. Alternatively, from a job seeker’s view, the skills gap refers to their inability to “see themselves” in a job description. This mismatch makes it challenging to both recruit and retain a talented workforce.
Late last year, the Colorado Workforce Development Council, in partnership with many other state agencies, released the 2022 Colorado Talent Pipeline Report. Perhaps the most provocative data point presented was that, in June of 2022, there were 208,000 job openings relative to 129,000 hires — a workforce recruitment deficit of nearly 38 percent. In part, we can attribute this recruitment deficit to the fact that Colorado has 250,000 adults without high school diplomas, 600,000 people with some college and no degree, 45,000 students who left K-12 over the past three years, and hundreds of thousands who already have a diploma, credential or degree but need a chance to upskill in this new labor market.
To address this education and training gap, Colorado has invested nearly $650 million into higher education and workforce development over the past two years. Per the Talent Pipeline Report, this investment infusion includes funding for students to earn a postsecondary credential in high school, free adult training, apprenticeships, and industry-focused training. At the local level, though, there is more we can do to move the needle toward solutions for our businesses.
While there are many workforce development initiatives we’re pursuing at the Boulder Chamber, one of our most effective partnerships begins at the nexus of the job description. Specifically, the Boulder Chamber has been fortunate to work with the Markle Foundation in advancing the Skillful program. First launched in Colorado back in 2016, Skillful engages employers, educators, policymakers, and workforce development organizations in the creation of a labor market in which skills are valued. For example, while the standard candidate filter of a college degree may imply certain knowledge, years of direct on-the-job experience in a comparable field can often be a more telling measure of success.
To accelerate the adoption of skills-based hiring practices, Skillful offers employers a set of tools and practices that can both broaden and diversify the candidate pool for a given opportunity. Practically, the intent is to move away from the experience-based approach to recruitment to one based on the actual skills required for a position. Moreover, identifying and removing gender and ethnic bias in the text of a job description has proven effective in reducing hiring times, improving talent management, and widening the applicant funnel to a broader diversity of job seekers.
In short, amidst the rapid adoption of new technologies and the increased demands in advanced manufacturing fields, we must change the way we hire, train, and develop our workforce. Through Skillful training and attention to the associated credentials-based recruitment principles, we can begin to make progress toward these goals by making job descriptions more appropriate to the work needed, and giving job seekers encouragement to pursue career opportunities based on the skills they possess and/or can attain.
Contact us at the Boulder Chamber if you want to learn more about Skillful and skills-based hiring practices. I note that we are hosting one of our free regional Skillful training sessions for employers this October and encourage you, your human resources team and hiring managers to consider joining us. Most important, as we look to overcome the skills gap that has been such a barrier to workforce recruitment efforts, we urge you to avoid a focus on the pedigree of your job applicants and purposefully recruit for the skills to do the job.