Ever heard of the “State of the Workforce”? I had no idea what it was. I was excited to learn about it over breakfast with the CEO of the Pikes Peak Workforce Center — Traci Marques. The community gathered at the DoubleTree Hotel recently. Despite the large crowd of 450, the atmosphere was surprisingly intimate.
We were given a seat on the inside track to learn trends in the labor force of the Pikes Peak region. For anyone new to this subject, the Pikes Peak Workforce Center is a local agency that connects businesses with job seekers. Our workforce center is part of a system of centers coordinated by the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration.
The Pikes Peak Workforce Center helps businesses find qualified workers. They also help job seekers obtain employment and training services to enhance their careers. El Paso and Teller counties are connected to the center in a variety of ways.
Mayor John Suthers, our first guest speaker at the breakfast, told us about how in 2018 the center served over 32,000 job-seekers. They served 2,200 employers and spent over $1.5 million training, educating and reintegrating workers into the job market. The agency offered potential employees 235 hiring events, nine job fairs and services that ranged from resume writing to placement for apprenticeships.
When jobs are plentiful and pay well, many of us can feel that the future is bright. This hope can lend itself to healthy political discourse. As jobs go away or pay badly, a sense of powerlessness can make the political climate downright toxic. We are fortunate that the Pikes Peak region has one of the lowest unemployment rates (4.1 percent) in the country.
The keynote speaker was Josh Davies, the CEO of The Center for Work Ethic Development. He delivered one of the most thought-provoking presentations that I have seen. His premise was that as a region we must train people now for the new fields and jobs that are coming to Colorado or we will have huge economic development problems.
It seems the world is changing around us. Technology is driving the creation of new high paying fields but killing some of the old fields as it advances. Agriculture is a great example of an industry on the chopping block. One hundred years ago, in the United States 40 percent of our population worked in agriculture. Today that number is less than 2 percent.
According to some futurists like Davies, 116 million jobs are going to “go away” by 2030. The elimination will be of mostly low-skill jobs and some jobs that require repetitive work. Fields that will be hard hit will be telemarketing, accounting and retail. Those jobs will be replaced but will require skill sets that only come with specialized training.
Those struggling financially will be the hardest hit. People in telemarketing and retail and fields like them can barely maintain a place to live now. When those fields go away as is being predicted, we will have workers with little opportunity in a market that calls for highly skilled workers.
For some that is happening today. The average job posting in the Pikes Peak region is over $80,000. But workers without the specific skill sets those jobs call for cannot have them. Sometimes those positions are in cybersecurity, engineering and other high-paying fields. Some of those fields call for special certifications that do not require college.
It is unfortunate, that our city is quietly becoming divided into haves and have-nots. Instead of attempting to assign blame for this discouraging trend, low-skilled or low wage workers must take advantage of all the services being provided by government agencies like the Pikes Peak Workforce Center to increase their incomes and better their lives.
A living wage is possible. A person just must plug into the support systems that can help them to access good income. Or to create it.
Connect to the Pikes Peak Workforce Center at: https://ppwfc.org/. PPWFC is at 1675 Garden of the Gods Road, Colorado Springs, CO 80907.
Rachel Stovall is a longtime community advocate and organizer. Also a fundraising, media and marketing consultant, Stovall is most known for singing with her dance band Phat Daddy and the Phat Horn Doctors.