Community Colleges Uniquely Positioned to Help Futureproof the Workforce

By Leah Goss, Executive Director of Community College of Denver, and Shannon Block, Executive Director of Skillful Colorado
  • up close image of a machine at the AMC

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), 35 percent of the skills workers need, regardless of industry, will have changed by 2020.

While there’s considerable debate around exactly what percentage of future jobs haven’t been invented yet, it’s widely acknowledged that all workers will need to regularly hone their existing skills or acquire new ones to succeed in today and tomorrow’s economy.

The importance of lifelong learning is highlighted in an article published on the WEF website, which describes what workers can do to remain relevant: “If the half-life of a job is about five years (meaning that every five years, that skill is about half as valuable as it was before), you want to get ahead of that decline in value. Assess your own skills every two or three years and get started learning new skills sooner rather than later.”

Community colleges, with their history of equipping their graduates with the skills employers need, are uniquely positioned to help workers, especially adult workers without a four-year degree, upskill and reskill.

Their emphasis on flexibility, convenience, affordability, and accessibility makes them ideal vehicles for lifelong learning for people of diverse backgrounds.

In our experience as leaders of organizations intent on helping workers futureproof their careers, two things become apparent:

  1. Educators and training providers need to adapt their curricula more rapidly than they ever have in order to give students the skills they need to succeed post-graduation
  2. All parts of the workforce system, including educators, employers, government, and others, need to work together to help futureproof the workforce

The Community College of Denver’s (CCD) Advanced Manufacturing Center serves as a strong example of the cross-sector collaboration that can help students and workers compete in today and tomorrow’s workforce. An educational and training facility offering degree and certificate programs in machining and welding, the Center seeks to equip students with an Associate of Applied Science degree with which graduates can find lucrative manufacturing jobs with opportunities for advancement.

Their many strong partnerships with local employers ensure that the skills students learn to remain up-to-date. Students and employers can connect directly through a “Manufacturing Mixer,” during which employers can find the scarce skilled manufacturing talent they need.

Janet Colvin, a career coach who helps students find manufacturing jobs, says that the Center’s “students really enjoy the program because they can see the results of their success.” She also says that employers are “thrilled” because these students require less on-the-job training.

In addition to working with employers to ensure their curricula stay current, CCD also invests in its career coaches, who help students navigate the many career options available to them. The encouragement and personal, face-to-face interactions career coaches provide help students determine what career pathway fits their needs and interests.

2019-April - CoachingCorpsRetreat - Janet Colvin from The Markle Foundation on Vimeo.

As part of its commitment to help career coaches develop professionally, CCD has sent two of its career coaches, including Janet Colvin, to the Skillful Governor’s Coaching Corps, a state-based training program designed to strengthen and support career coaches. The months-long program introduces career coaches to tools and methods they can use to help their clients determine what skills they have that employers need as well as what skills they need to acquire in order to remain competitive.

Participants, graduates, and other career coaches can continue to build their skills and network through the Skillful Coaching Community of Practice, an online complement to the Corps that provides a forum in which career coaches can learn from one another, share resources, participate in monthly educational webinars, and more.

Rose from The Markle Foundation on Vimeo.

As all parts of the workforce system continue to explore different approaches to preparing workers for the jobs of today and tomorrow, one thing is certain: community colleges will continue to give students the skills they need to flourish in a changing economy. And employers, government, economic chambers, and others in the space will need to help develop and accelerate these efforts, to ensure that both the economy and workers can prosper.


About Shannon Block

As Executive Director of Skillful Colorado, Shannon and her team are working to bring a future of skills to the future of work. With more than a decade of leadership experience, Shannon is a pragmatic and collaborative leader, adept at bringing people together to solve complex problems. She approaches issues holistically, helps her team think strategically about solutions and fosters a strong network of partners with a shared interest in strengthening Colorado’s workforce and economic development. Prior to Skillful, Shannon served as CEO of the Denver Zoo, Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers, and World Forward Foundation. She is deeply engaged in the Colorado community and serves on multiple boards including the Women’s Forum of Colorado, the Regional Executive Committee of the Young Presidents’ Organization, Children’s Hospital Quality and Safety Board, and the Colorado-based Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Community Advisory Council. Follow her on Twitter @ShannonBlock or connect with her on LinkedIn.

About Leah Goss

Leah Goss, Executive Director of the Community College of Denver Foundation, works with her team to make sure students and graduates have access to rewarding and sustainable work. Goss has 15 years of fundraising experience, including senior management experience in community colleges in Colorado, Texas and Louisiana. She has a career fundraising record of over $40 million. Her work has focused on fundraising for workforce programs and scholarships.  Connect with Leah on LinkedIn.

About Skillful

Skillful works with business, educators, and government—powered by technology—to help the nearly 70% of Americans without college degrees get good jobs based on the skills they have or the skills they can learn. Skillful, a non-profit initiative of the Markle Foundation, is dedicated to enabling all Americans – particularly those without a four-year college degree – to secure good jobs in a changing economy. In partnership with Microsoft and others, Skillful is developing skills-based training and employment practices in collaboration with state governments, local employers, educators and workforce development organizations. Skillful and its partners are working to create a labor market in which skills are valued, and people can more easily access the information and education they need to keep pace with technology’s impact on work. Skillful currently operates in two states, Skillful Colorado and Skillful Indiana, bringing investment, training, tools and innovative methods to augment local workforce development efforts. It formed and facilitates the Skillful State Network, a collaboration among 26 state governors to accelerate the development and deployment of effective skills-based practices to transform their labor markets. Skillful is grateful for support provided by Walmart, and its partnerships with the states of Colorado and Indiana, Microsoft, Lumina, Purdue University, and Purdue Extensions.

About Community College of Denver

CCD's educational programs are designed to enrich the social, civic and economic fabric of our community, nation and world. Through innovation, open exploration of ideas and preparation of a well-trained workforce, CCD enriches our democracy and supports a vibrant local economy. Programs and strategies that promote access — as well as the academic and personal success for underserved students — are the foundation of CCD operations.