Outdoor industry summit focuses on job training, trends | PostIndependent.com

Outdoor industry summit focuses on job training, trends

Carrie Click
Special to the Post Independent
Luis Benitez, executive director of the Colorado Recreation Industry Office, moderated a panel discussion at the recent Outdoor Industry Workforce Summit at Morgridge Commons in Glenwood Springs. Colorado Mountain College brought together dozens of the state’s leaders in the outdoor industry to learn how the college can better prepare the workforce to power one of the state’s largest economic drivers.
Doug Stewart

According to an announcement last week from the Colorado Governor’s Office, in 2017 outdoor recreation contributed $62 billion to the state’s economy and $35 billion to its gross domestic product — more than 10 percent of the total.

The impact of the outdoor recreation industry in Colorado has almost doubled since the state’s previous analysis in 2013.

Colorado Mountain College is among those working to educate future employees to fill those jobs, as participants in a recent outdoor industry summit heard in Glenwood Springs.

The Outdoor Industry Workforce Summit took place Oct. 18 at Morgridge Commons, co-hosted by CMC, the Governor’s Office of Outdoor Recreation, and the Outdoor Industry Association and Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado. Attending were leaders from Colorado outdoor businesses, gear makers and trade agencies.

Outdoor-oriented educational programs such as ski area operations, wilderness emergency medical technician training, ski and snowboard business, sustainability studies, natural resource management and outdoor education are just a few of the college’s relevant offerings. Summit attendees cheered when screens showed a CBS4 News clip from the previous day, showing CMC students in Leadville who had built, prepared and tested the state’s first terrain park to open in the 2019-20 season.

“We’ve been an early leader in these areas — for over 50 years,” said Rachel Pokrandt, CMC vice president and campus dean for Leadville and Chaffee County.

Dozens of programs have direct applications to the outdoor industry, and countless more, such as business administration, marketing and e-commerce, and leadership and management, have crossover applications to careers at many outdoor companies and organizations.

“And we have a unique opportunity to improve and evolve with the industry’s needs, with 11 campuses located in the heart of our state’s recreation economy,” she said.

Colorado Mountain College was recently named Top Adventure College by Elevation Outdoors Magazine for its numerous educational opportunities in outdoor recreation and natural resource management, and its proximity to many year-round adventure-based locations.

Matching students with jobs

Co-founders, CEOs and executives from Aspen Skiing Co. and Vail Resorts, Smartwool, Big Agnes, Fishpond, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, the U.S. Forest Service, Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources, outfitters, elected officials and many more attended the gathering.

They joined CMC administrators, faculty and students for a daylong interactive meeting to discover the best ways to prepare students for jobs, including teaching the softer skills needed by employers and expected by tourism and recreation clients.

“This is kind of a ‘Who’s Who’ in the outdoor industry, and CMC has been a leader in this arena for decades,” said Luis Benitez, director of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, who helped moderate the event. “What this is about is pipelines and pathways.”

Listening to industry leaders

Last spring, Pokrandt and CMC President and CEO Carrie Besnette Hauser began a systematic assessment to determine if CMC was providing the education that today’s outdoor industry employers expect and need from employees.

“We wanted to dig deeper,” said Pokrandt. To connect and reconnect the college with the industry, Cooper Mallozzi, dean of the college’s School of Tourism, Hospitality and Recreation, coordinated a series of listening sessions over the past several weeks at seven CMC campuses, meeting with local outdoor industry leaders and employees.

“We took what we found in those sessions, about preparing students for the outdoor workforce, and used it to guide topics in the breakout sessions at the summit,” Pokrandt said.

The Oct. 18 summit included a panel discussion about current workforce needs in the outdoor industry, as well as a presentation from Mallozzi about CMC’s outdoor programs. Pokrandt provided the group with findings from the previous listening sessions, and seven breakout groups discussed a variety of topics, from guide services to conservation.

The college is producing a final summary and report of the day, and there are plans for future collaborative meetings as well as a follow-up summit involving other colleges and universities offering outdoor industry programs.

Carrie Click writes for Colorado Mountain College’s community relations and marketing departments and is the assistant PIO for the college.

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