Work-based learning bill touted as answer to Colorado labor shortage

By: - March 21, 2022 11:38 am

From left on dais, state Sen. Larry Liston, senior legislative research analyst Jeanette Chapman, and Sen. Robert Rodriguez are seen during a hearing at the Colorado Capitol on a bill to expand experiential learning opportunities, March 16, 2022. Seated at the table are Sen. James Coleman, left, and Sen. Bob Gardner, who are co-sponsoring the bill. (Julia Fennell/Colorado Newsline)

A bill that would create programs to address Colorado’s labor shortage moved forward last week. 

The Expansion Of Experiential Learning Opportunities would establish four programs to expand work-based learning opportunities and address digital inequalities.

“With workforce shortages expected to get worse, Colorado doesn’t have a single potential worker to waste,” said Joe Barela, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, while testifying in support of the bill. “That’s why this bill supports adoption of work-based learning models, like job shadow, internship and apprenticeship.”


The bill would create the Work-based Learning Incentive program, which would provide financial incentives to employers who establish work-based learning opportunities. Employers and program intermediaries — who would facilitate the work-based learning opportunities —would be selected by the CDLE through an application process, according to the bill’s fiscal note

The bill gets Colorado one step closer to building the talent it needs and ensuring that all Coloradans can find opportunities in the future of work, Barela said.

Senate Bill 22-140 was co-sponsored by state Sens. James Coleman, a Denver Democrat, Bob Gardner, a Colorado Springs Republican, and state Rep. Barbara McLachlan, a Durango Democrat. 

“Our goal is to set up students for success, so that they can get those soft skills, those essential skills, that employers are often talking about the need for,” said Kelly Caufield, the vice president of government affairs at Colorado Succeeds, a nonprofit coalition of business leaders. 

Caufield said that a significant number of employers in Colorado are challenged with labor shortages, and if the labor shortage continues, this legislation can be part of the solution. 

The goal of the work-based learning program is to incentivize employers to participate in high quality work-based learning by helping to offset the start-up costs of the programs, such as an employer training a person in their company to manage an internship or apprenticeship program, Caufield said. 

A ‘win-win’

The workplace apprenticeship offers training for students who otherwise wouldn’t get it, and it provides support for employers who offer these trainings, Lorena Garcia, executive director of the Colorado Statewide Parent Coalition, said at the hearing. “It’s a win-win.”

“There are numerous students, schools and adults who want to take advantage of work-based learning, and just simply not enough opportunities,” Debbie Brown, president of the Colorado Business Roundtable, said at the hearing while testifying in support of the legislation. The Colorado Business Roundtable is a nonprofit of Colorado business executives. 

“I want to help people who want to enter the workforce, we all do, but it just seems like this is just another bill that will grow the size of government,” Sen. Larry Liston, a Colorado Springs Republican, told Newsline. “Once these programs start, you never get rid of them, so I was just concerned about that and another $6 million dollar fiscal note.” 

If passed, the legislation would require an appropriation of over $6 million to the CDLE. 

Liston, who voted against the bill, said that if the four programs had been been separated, he might have gone along with the work-based learning incentive program. 

The work-based learning program will help give students an opportunity to see a clear connection between their work and education, Angie Paccione, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education, said. One of Paccione’s top priorities when taking the position was to make sure that students are well prepared for the workplace when they graduate college, she said.

Digital inequalities

The legislation would also establish the Statewide Digital Navigator program, through the Office of Future Work, which would address digital inequalities, by, among other methods, providing technology and literacy support to people who need it, according to the fiscal note. The providers of the program would be selected through an application process and are required to partner with a nonprofit or public entity in order to qualify. 

Digital navigators would reach out to Coloradans who have been historically excluded or disengaged from work-based learning opportunities and connect them with opportunities that are available to them.

The bill would create a program through the Office of New Americans, which would provide ESL training for English language learners to help them transition into the workforce while training.

In addition, the legislation would require the Office of New Americans to establish and provide staff support to a task force that would examine processes for obtaining in-demand occupational licenses and international credentials, in order to integrate new Americans and internationally trained professionals into the state’s workforce, according to the bill’s text. One-eighth of Colorado’s population are immigrants, according to the 2021  Colorado Talent Pipeline Report.

The bill passed the Senate Business, Labor, and Technology Committee 3-2, with Sens. Rob Woodward, a Loveland Republican and Liston voting against it. Democratic Sens. Chris Kolker of Centennial, Robert Rodriguez of Denver and Coleman voted in support of the bill. 

Apprenticeships in Colorado

Colorado is also in the process of creating a State Apprenticeship Agency, which will give the state government — rather than the federal government — the authority both to register and to establish standards for apprenticeship programs in Colorado. Colorado is currently an office of apprenticeship state, which means the federal government registers apprenticeship programs. House Bill 2021-1007, the legislation that established the Colorado State Apprenticeship Agency, requires the agency to begin registering programs in July 2023. 

Because the legislation requires money from the state, the bill needs to pass the Appropriations Committee. If it passes, it will go in front of the full Senate for a vote. 


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