Garfield 16, Re-2 districts explore partnership to open career tech center
Colorado will need to replace 50,000 construction jobs by 2027, an industry official said.
“We’re right there at the silver tsunami, where the baby boomers are starting to retire and have been, but it’s going to be picking up,” said Carolyn Tucker, a regional business service coordinator for Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. “Not only will we need to replace the existing workforce but we need to grow it, because there’s growth in the region.”
But with school programs across Garfield County either limited to Future Farmers of America, welding, small motor or basic construction classes, pulling skilled workers from local sources has become a tall task for Western Slope companies.
Even right now, during what most folks in the industry call “the slow season,” Vail-based Gallegos Corporation Chief Business Development Officer David Little says he could easily hire about 25 to 30 new employees.
“The influx of people coming into Colorado is 2,000 a week,” he said. “That’s 50 apartments a week that need to be built.”
As districts began emphasizing other areas of learning to raise standardized test scores, the graduation rate and college-bound students, they’ve also seen a decline in shop and vocational-technology-related opportunities, Colorado River Board of Cooperative Education Services (BOCES) Executive Director Dr. Ken Haptonstall said.
“They can’t find employees,” Haptonstall said. “They can’t find people to do the jobs that they need. A lot of the time we’re talking about construction, manufacturing, computer areas.”
Little, a sitting member for the Association of General Contractors who climbed the ranks of his company after first learning bricklaying, acknowledged the issue is particularly problematic for employers on the Western Slope. BUILD Colorado, a workforce development service powered by AGC, has 16 tech centers along the Front Range.
Now BOCES wants to change that by facilitating joint learning opportunities for local districts.
“It’s tough to really build out a really robust construction program on their own,” Haptonstall said. “But once you start combining districts and you get this mass of students, then you have a large enough group of kids.”
In late February, Haptonstall joined Colorado River BOCES coordinator Scott Cooper to present an opportunity to the Garfield Re-2 school board in an effort to bridge more students to employment throughout the Western Slope.
Through partnerships brokered with local businesses, Colorado River BOCES would help establish a joint career technology education center to be shared between school districts in and outside of Garfield County, Haptonstall said. The center is expected to cost $37 million and would include 8-credentialed instructors and an additional four- to-five assisting staff.
The center would likely be built in Rifle and incorporate learning opportunities that include several fields related to career technical education. Apprenticeships, hands-on learning techniques and even a chance to gain OSHA-10 certification are just some of these potential opportunities.
The Colorado River BOCES officials said they’ve already begun the process of talking to local businesses and various private funders — like the Aspen Community Foundation — to help support construction and instructor salaries and training for the proposed center. If the center is built, industry employers would get first dibs on the up-and-coming workforce.
“They really do see, if they put money into this and they help build a facility, they can have highly-qualified employees coming to them and doing the job they need them to do, and making some good money,” Haptonstall said.
Little said starting wages would likely start at $18-$20 an hour. Those who stick with the industry end up making $120,000 to $130,000 per year.
Garfield 16 Superintendent Brad Ray said the shared facility could also potentially serve students in the Roaring Fork School District, as well as even students who live in De Beque.
“When I say more equals more, what I mean by that is, if it’s an Re-2 thing, or a 16 thing, or an Re-1 thing, when you have all of those people together you have a lot more opportunities for kids,” he said.
Re-2 school board member Tom Slappey, who’s also in the manufacturing business, expressed support for the CTE facility.
“There’s a lack of skilled workforce out there today,” he said. “The more tools that we can provide kids as they navigate wherever it is they’re going to go apply for, the better choices and decisions they’re going to make.”
Re-2 Board President Anne Guettler echoed Slappey’s support. She also said it will be critical to get instructors certified.
“For me, it’s important we provide these opportunities for these kids, because not everybody’s going to go to college,” she said.
According to data compiled by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, a little more than half of Colorado high school graduates go to college. Haptonstall said about 47.8% of remaining graduates either go to trade schools, the military or pursue something else.
But Haptonstall also said students who pursue trade studies in high school still go on to college.
“75% of those kids graduate in four years (in high school),” he said.
Re-2 board member Katie Mackley acknowledged the district’s need to modernize their learning opportunities.
“I think we have to acknowledge that our education system has become incredibly antiquated and has been for a very long, long time,” she said. “For me, this is a way we start transforming that.”
Fellow board member Jason Shoup said the payoff would definitely be worth the effort.
“I think it’s an absolutely fantastic opportunity,” he said. “It’s going to take some time to do it right, (but) it’s definitely a good idea.”
Colorado River BOCES officials said the next step is to continue seeking prospective funding sources and speaking with community members to possibly begin the next phase of the proposal.
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