Polis workforce

Gov. Jared Polis and lawmakers, announcing two bills to help young people pay for education that will provide careers in industries with workforce shortages.

Bipartisanship is not, in fact, dead at the state Capitol, as evidenced by a news conference in which Gov. Jared Polis and lawmakers from both parties announced two bills to improve workforce development.

One bill — to be sponsored by Speaker Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, Assistant House Minority Leader Rose Pugliese, R-Colorado Springs, Sen. Janet Buckner, D-Aurora and Sen. Perry Will, R-New Castle — will provide free training toward associate degrees and industry certificates. That will apply to industries such as elementary and early childhood education, firefighting, law enforcement, forest management, short-term nursing programs and construction trades.

The proposed two-year program would follow the success of Care Forward Colorado, which was created in 2022 through Senate Bill 22-226 and offered through the community college system, and which provides zero-cost, short-term training programs in healthcare. 

The new program is expected to help train 20,000 Coloradans in the next two years, and would pay for tuition, fees, books and other supplies. 

The second bill — to be sponsored by Sen. Jeff Bridges, D-Greenwood Village, Senate Minority Leader Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, Rep. Matthew Martinez, D-Monte Vista and Rep. Don Wilson, R-Monument — would provide a $1,500 scholarship for graduating high school seniors. The scholarship would be available to 15,000 seniors in the class of 2024, which they can take to any trade school, community college or public college or university. 

The scholarships would be prioritized for careers with high workforce shortages, such as health care, manufacturing, construction, finance, engineering, STEM fields, information technology, education, or behavioral and mental health. 

Polis, in announcing the bills at a Tuesday news conference, noted that Colorado's unemployment is at a record low, with two job openings for every unemployed person. The bills will help people get the skills they need to fill important roles, as well as create a strong livelihood, he said. 

Many of those jobs, however, are in careers that typically do not provide incomes high enough for people to be able to afford to live in the communities they work in. To that, Polis said those careers pay better than unskilled jobs. 

Karen Keyes, who owns a construction company in Denver with 29 employees, said she has five openings right now.

When she started her company in 2017, she believed it would provide a reliable option for Coloradans, given the shortage of contractors at the time. The construction industry has an older workforce, and companies have to find more ways to raise awareness about opportunity. She believes the bills will provide access to education that will be key to her business and to others in the construction trades. 

"We must find ways to get younger professionals, male and female alike, into this critical industry. These bills are an important first step," she said.

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