The latest detailed Monthly Economic Indicators report from the Metro Denver EDC mentions (p. 6) a recent study showing that Colorado could receive a multi-billion dollar economic boost if our schools became the best in the nation (https://coloradosucceeds.org/best-schools/home/). I recently co-authored an op-ed about that study with another local business leader, Earl Wright – he from his vantage point as chair of the Common Sense Policy Roundtable, and I from mine as a board member of the organization Colorado Succeeds; which is focused on connecting business and K-12 leaders. I think it’s worth looking at that study through the lens of the Metro Denver EDC.
Today, close to three-quarters of Colorado jobs require some education beyond high school, and that number will continue to rise. Only Minnesota and Washington D.C. have as high or a higher proportion of jobs requiring some level of post-secondary education.
In common with many other states, though, we struggle with high school graduation rates and students who are inadequately prepared for the post-secondary education needed to fill available jobs. Clearly, that disconnect cannot remain.
As employers, we have been fortunate that Colorado as a state, and Metro Denver in particular, attracts educated and skilled workers from other parts of the country. Yet we cannot rely on being a net importer of talent. Maintaining the stellar economic performance demonstrated in these monthly reports from the Metro Denver EDC requires commitment from both business leaders and elected officials to right our educational ship.
And, as leaders, we have to prioritize the actions we ask policymakers to take. Policy prescriptions for improving graduation rates proliferate. But CEOs know that you don’t simply try everything; you rely on data to help you determine the best course of action, then you pilot, test, and refine.
One thing that’s been proven effective is getting businesses more involved with schools. I’ve written before about CareerWise Colorado, a robust apprenticeship program based on decades of success in Switzerland. Another proven education/business connector in Colorado is our network of P-TECH schools – sometimes called “hollege” – which connect high school, college, and business to develop and provide the curriculum needed today to develop the high-tech workforce of tomorrow.
These and other partnerships between the education and business sectors require business leaders to engage with policymakers, making sure they understand the need for policy frameworks that enable such collaboration. Colorado Succeeds facilitates that collaboration; indeed, it’s why the study I’m referring to here is framed as advice for Colorado’s next governor. I encourage CEOs thinking about launching operations in Colorado to also think about how they want to engage in the work underway to develop the workforce of their, and our state’s, future.