Colorado Public Works Journal, Fall 2022

Fall 2022 53 JANAE HUNDERMAN Statewide Postsecondary & Workforce Readiness Coordinator In January 2022, the state of Colorado hired education consultant, Janae Hunderman, as the Statewide Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness Coordinator, a responsibility that very much aligns with her life’s work so far. In this edition of Industry Insights, the Colorado Public Works Journal had a cup of coffee with Janae to get her perspective on the state of the state’s best efforts to prepare today’s learners and job seekers for tomorrow’s workplace challenges. “I’ve been in education for 18 years, with the last seven focused primarily on supporting career development in high schools,” says Hunderman of the desire to beneficially impact the employment prospects of others as the basis of her career trajectory. “My role shares responsibilities with both the Colorado Workforce Development Council and the Colorado Department of Education. The work we do fosters connections between businesses and schools to make education more relevant to life after high school and to help develop the skills and knowledge employers need and want.” The Colorado Workforce Development Council (CWDC) is a Governorappointed, public-private partnership established to advise, oversee, and integrate the work of Colorado’s talent development network. Formed in 1998, the CWDC is responsible for the continuous improvement of the state’s workforce system through a statewide strategic vision that engages local partners. The Colorado Department of Education (CDC) provides leadership, resources, support, and accountability to the state’s 178 school districts to meet the needs of approximately 905,000 public school students. “Our mission is to make sure all job seekers have good jobs and that businesses have immediate, longterm access to the workforce they need,” continues Hunderman. “When these two things happen, the economic prosperity of the entire state improves. So, it’s very meaningful to the big picture.” Hunderman points out that developing and disseminating resources that increase connections across channels is fundamental to success. As an example of the many innovative tools job seekers should be aware of, she shines a light on Connecting Colorado, a state- and county-run system of linking job seekers to jobs, internships, and other resources. Likewise, My Colorado Journey is a public-information source that connects job seekers and students to careers, education planning, and support resources through a guided process that drives action and goal completion. As most Colorado employers can attest, presently there is a national workforce shortage. It’s a perplexing equation that can’t be precisely pinpointed on a particular problem, but rather seems indicative of a broader societal shift. “In general, our population is decreasing, especially in the workforce. The oldest generation of workers is retiring, and the youngest isn’t reproducing as fast as previous generations. Then there was COVID and its impacts,” says Hunderman. “Those aren’t easy problems to solve but it’s also important to talk about job quality. Not everyone understands job quality goes beyond pay and benefits to include opportunities for growth. This is where employers have a chance to improve and doing so will differentiate them.” To help employers understand how to improve job quality in Colorado, the CWDC has identified the positive aspects of employment the workforce values most. By providing jobs that offer family-sustaining wages, safe and inclusive environments, robust benefits, predictable scheduling, professional development, and opportunities to advance, employers can address their skills gaps, increase the number of qualified applicants to open positions, and improve their retention rates, while enhancing diversity, equity, and inclusion. Among opportunities, the CWDC’s Job Quality in Colorado page offers several strategies employers can benefit from immediately. The Good Jobs Pilot is a new program that employers can use to access assessment tools and consulting services to improve job quality at no cost. This process allows employers to use data to assess and benchmark the quality of their jobs and make datainformed decisions on how to improve. The page also provides access to the Colorado Job Quality Framework, which outlines the features of a quality job and lays out practical steps local communities, employers, and leaders can take to improve job quality in Colorado. (Learn more at: “One of the most recent initiatives we’ve launched are the Work-Based Learning Boot Camps,” shares Hunderman enthusiastically. “We are bringing together communities of educators and businesses to speak the same language on work-based learning. Local employers and educators are learning from one another while exploring topics like job quality, onboarding strategies, and how to build a pipeline of employees with skills that are needed.” As a shared responsibility, just as much of Hunderman’s work is concentrated on the Colorado Department of Education’s interests. Here, she illuminates the Career Development Incentive Program, which reimburses schools for implementing industry-recognized certifications that can be acquired while in high school to increase earning potential. “In this case, we need to know more from employers across all industries about what certifications or entrylevel training they’d like people to have coming out of high school,” she continues. “Just as importantly, we’re interested in establishing Sector Partnerships, where employers in the same industry connect around common concerns. We are especially eager to build partnerships with construction industries, where there are a lot of skilled workforce needs, a limited barrier to entry, and great opportunities for advancement.” Asked how the job seeker should see this situation for themselves, Hunderman is succinct. “For the young person in school or the job seeker in the market, the most important thing to understand is the concept of upscaling,” she finishes. “What can you do to prepare yourself for your future, what can you learn, what new skill can you develop? How can you make yourself a better version of yourself? We’ve got a lot of resources available to help and we want readers to know where to find them.” INDUSTRY INSIGHTS feature by Sean O’Keefe