Bipartisan bills would bolster workforce for in-demand Colorado jobs like construction, fire fighting
Gov. Jared Polis speaks about two upcoming bills aimed at workforce development at the Colorado Capitol on March 14, 2023. (Sara Wilson/Colorado Newsline)
Colorado lawmakers want to make it easier for young people to enter in-demand career pathways by reducing the costs — and in some cases making it free — to get trained in fields like construction, early childhood education and law enforcement.
“We hear from businesses across the state, ‘We need people with the skills to fill these job openings today,’ and we hear from individuals, ‘I’d like to get this skill but I can’t afford to get it.’ We want to match those things up,” Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, said during a Tuesday press conference at the Capitol announcing two upcoming bills aimed at closing the gap between the number of skilled workers and amount of available jobs.
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One of the bills would cover the cost of tuition, fees and supplies for a student to become credentialed in industries including elementary and early childhood education, firefighting, law enforcement, forest management, short-term nursing programs and construction trades.
It would build upon the existing Care Forward Colorado program, which was created through legislation last year and covers costs for certain health care training programs. Over 1,400 students have used the program since it launched last fall.
The new group of eligible industries was determined using Department of Labor data to show the highest workforce needs.
“This is a very data-driven response for workforce shortages that we have today,” Polis said.
Bill sponsors expect the one-time investment, which would use state general funds, to affect 20,000 people in the state over two years. It would cover certificate or associate degree programs at public community colleges, local district colleges and area technical colleges.
“Our bill boosts our workforce, helps fill critical positions in critical industries and gets more Coloradans on the path to the profession of their dreams and the Colorado dream they want to pursue,” said House Speaker Julie McCluskie, a Dillon Democrat who will sponsor the bill with Republican Assistant Minority Leader Rose Pugliese of Colorado Springs, Democratic Sen. Janet Buckner of Aurora and Republican Sen. Perry Will of New Castle.
‘Hard to believe it was real’
The legislation would help more students like Laylonni Jaramillo, who pursued EMT training at Front Range Community College with financial help from Care Forward Colorado.
“I had already paid out of pocket for my program because I didn’t want to be in debt. But once I submitted everything for Care Forward Colorado, it only took four to five weeks to receive my refund. And it wasn’t just my tuition — it covered my books, my uniform and other expenses associated with my program. It was almost hard to believe it was real,” she said.
A 12 credit-hour program at FRCC’s Boulder campus is about $3,000 in tuition and $180 in fees for Colorado residents.
A second bill highlighted Tuesday would provide $1,500 scholarships to about 15,000 graduating high schoolers next year. The intention is for the students to use the money towards training and certification in high-demand fields.
The bill will be sponsored by Democratic Sen. Jeff Bridges of Greenwood Village, Republican Senate Minority Leader Paul Lundeen of Monument, Democratic Rep. Matthew Martinez of Monte Vista and Republican Rep. Don Wilson of Monument.
The scholarships would be prioritized for students who say they want to pursue jobs in fields like health care, manufacturing, construction, STEM, education and behavioral health.
“This is the type of meaningful legislation that is really going to put dollars in the hands of our students and (make) sure that they have the skills necessary to be successful,” Martinez said, drawing on his experience working at Adams State University.
Both bills are expected to be introduced this week.
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