State of the State Panel: Chancellor Michelle Marks and Gov. Jared Polis on Workforce, Education, and Skills Gaps
Colorado’s workforce faces a skills gap. With too few qualified workers and many unfilled jobs in growth fields that require advanced education, including civil engineering and software development, Colorado is searching for solutions that government, industry, and educational institutions—including CU Denver—can help solve.
This was one takeaway from a Jan. 26 State of the State panel that featured Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and four panelists from important Colorado sectors—with Chancellor Michelle Marks representing the education sector. The annual panel, held at the Denver Art Museum, was hosted by the Colorado Business Roundtable, which engages academia, business, community, and government stakeholders to improve Colorado’s business climate.
After Polis summarized key priorities and challenges that Colorado faces in the year ahead (“The two biggest challenges I hear from many companies…are housing and workforce,” he said), each panelist had the chance to ask the governor several direct questions.
“How can we, as a group, come together to help employers develop talent for all their jobs, including the higher-paying jobs that often require bachelor’s degrees or higher?” Marks asked Polis. “And how can we think specifically about how we bring all Coloradans into the mix, as opposed to being primarily an importer of talent?”
Polis, an education advocate who founded two charter schools and served six years as Colorado Board of Education chair, responded by encouraging the Colorado Business Roundtable and diverse stakeholders in the education/workforce pipeline—including colleges and universities, the private sector, and other training programs—to collaborate and lead together.
In this way, these entities collectively ensure that skills development is driven by private sector goals and needs. “That’s both state-advised, through some of our work,” said Polis, referencing the state’s statewide task force on student success and workforce revitalization, “and also locally driven by collaborations with local and regional universities, colleges, community colleges, high schools, and so on.”
Colorado’s 2023 legislative session, which began Jan. 9, and Polis’ recommendations for Colorado’s state budget were also on the minds of panelists. Marks, noting increased scrutiny faced by educational institutions from K-12 to higher education, asked Polis what positive outcomes he wanted to see from the 2023 session. Polis cited hopes for legislative backing of after-school programs that support for math achievement.
Opportunities to engage candidly with Colorado government and industry leaders, Marks said, give CU Denver an important seat at the table and highlight the university’s role as a University for Life. This is especially true as CU Denver works to enhance its program breadth and flexibility, as well as strengthen the diversity of its credentials so that the university can serve all Colorado learners—including midcareer or other nontraditional learners seeking to reskill for other opportunities or industries.
“These conversations, bringing together Gov. Polis and representatives across industries, are so important to the collective work we’re doing in building the future of Colorado,” said Marks, who serves on the Colorado Business Roundtable’s board of directors. “By strengthening lines of communication across government, business, and community stakeholders, I’m confident we can co-create solutions that address Colorado’s workforce needs and make education work for all.”