Fast-Tracking COLORADO'S High-Tech Workforce.
Internet-based electronic commerce, or e-commerce, has become the fastest growing factor ever seen in overall economic activity. In the process, it is turning the old blue-collar, white-collar" paradigm upside down. Skills are becoming more important for advancement than traditional college degrees, and being a multi-disciplinary technician -- or gold-collar" worker -- is becoming the fast track to success.
The new fact of life in workforce development is that between now and the year 2005, nearly 80% of new jobs will require a two-year degree or less. Further, it will take 15 such jobs to support one that requires a master's. Over the next decade in Colorado, continued economic growth will depend on being able to fill 30,000 of these new knowledge professional jobs. There will be limited opportunity for the technologically unskilled. The emerging gold-collar worker will be in the catbird seat.
It's no surprise, then, that the largest and fastest-growing segment of higher education in Colorado is the state's community college system. That's because it has long served the fastest growing segment of the educational market-the working adult, nearly 20 percent of whom already have four-year degrees. It supplies these nascent knowledge professionals with skills in key high tech areas: creating and maintaining electronic networks, systems analysis, computer engineering, database administration, programming, multimedia production, web design and user support. In addition, it teaches basic computer literacy.
The Colorado Community College and Occupational Education System, CCCOES for short, educated more than a quarter million students of all ages last year, two-thirds of whom were in career/technical programs guided by industry. Some 54,000 were in IT classes, such as Cisco Networking Academies at each of its 13 "landbased" colleges -- five in metro Denver and others in Colorado Springs, LaJunta, Lamar, Fort Morgan, Rangely, Pueblo, Sterling and Trinidad.
Cisco networking associates -- who, according to the Internet equipment giant, can earn $35,000 to $40,000 to start -- are good examples of the new knowledge professional. So are multimedia specialists like Jeff Faller, a 34-year-old anthropologist who chose the Graphic Animation Technology program at Red Rocks Community College in Lakewood over graduate school. "This is better than an M.A. or even a B.A.," he said on a recent Channel 4 news cast. "It takes only two years. It allows you to get into the 'force' as quickly as possible."
Equally productive in cultivating knowledge professionals are community college customized training partner-ships with more than 3,000 employers statewide. Last year, they upgraded the skills of more than 44,000 workers through programs like these:
* Front Range Community College (FRCC) conducts so much onsite training at Celestica, an electronics manufacturing services leader, that one room there is known as "The Front Range Room." FRCC also customizes electronics training for Lucent Technologies. Sue Maynard, HR manager for Particle Measuring Systems, a firm that makes particle counters to measure contaminants, turns to the college for everything from customer service to project management to team building, because "We realize how beneficial and valuable this training is."
* The Alliance Technical Training Center, a partnership among the Community College of Denver, AT&T, the Communication Workers of America, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Lucent, focuses on providing union members with the tools and skills they need to enhance their employability in the increasingly wireless world.
* In Colorado Springs, Bendata, 3Si, Compaq, DMW Worldwide, Gateway, FedEx, IMI Systems, MCI/Worldcom, Nx-Trend Technologies, OAO Corporation, Oracle, Pikes Peak Community College, Quantum, UC-CS, and USA.net have partnered to meet their growing work-force needs -- the most immediate for technical support representatives. Nearly 40% of the graduates of the first class developed by this information technology education partnership got jobs immediately. The others were either already employed or continued with additional IT classes.
* In Craig, Tri-State Generation and Transmission and Colorado Northwestern Community College created skill training in chemistry for the firm's power plant technicians.
* ISEC Inc., a specialty contractor in Englewood, is retooling its technology for future growth. ISEC hired Arapahoe Community College to help its entire workforce upgrade. The college's Workforce Training and Development Department delivered train-the-trainer and computer courses on the new gear. ACC is also customizing curriculum and delivering instruction to more than 100 Group Voyagers Inc. employees as they move from sales-driven to market-driven business processes.
* At its Gorsich Advanced Technology Center, Pueblo Community College fast tracks technicians from throughout southern Colorado. Industry partnerships are the Center's lifeblood, like one with Monckton's Machine Tools and Haas Automation that provides numerical control machines used to teach high-tech manufacturing.
* Otero junior College, the Arkansas Valley Regional Medical Center and the Lajunta Chamber of Commerce combined forces to provide quality customer service training for the Arkansas Valley. Funding from the $3 million Colorado First economic development pool eased development and delivery costs for the Center's 553 employees. Program content was then modified for use by other local businesses.
* As an industry education partner, Lamar Community College works with NEOPLAN USA to develop programs that range from workplace English to welding for manufacturing workers who turn out municipal transit buses.
* Red Rocks Community College has racked up successful partnerships among small businesses in the construction trades, restaurants, hotels and retailers. Equally important are local city governments in Lakewood and Golden. By providing cost-effective training, the college and its municipal partners save taxpayers money. The college also partners with the entertainment and recreation industries, providing incentives for movies, Colorado sports, skiing and job training in the gambling industry.
In 1994, the CCOES launched the Higher Education and Advanced Technology (HEAT) Center as part of the Lowry Redevelopment Project. The campus, located on the former Lowry Air Force Base, comprises 18 buildings and about a million square feet of classroom and laboratory space. The HEAT Center is a collaborative venture among system community colleges, universities and the private sector that focuses on training multidisciplinary technicians in the high-cost, high-tech fields of advanced manufacturing, biotechnology, life sciences and information/telecommunications.
The HEAT Center also houses the system's year-old Colorado Electronic Community College and the futuristic Education Technology Training Center, both of which enjoy international reputations for electronic instructional delivery. But HEAT's crown jewel is the Convergent Technologies Innovations (CTIL) Lab, an alliance with Lucent Technologies. CTIL, dedicated by Governor Bill Owens in November, is a national showcase for Lucent's latest communication cum computing products as well as a voice, video and data communication research environment for distance learning applications.
Will efforts like these make much of a dent in Colorado's stunning demand for gold collar workers? It's hard to tell. What we do know is that the state s community colleges have been partnering with industry to meet such challenges since 1870. They've fueled its economic growth ever since.