Filling the pipeline: Work force development continues

Phil Castle, The Business Times

There’s more than one way to fill the proverbial pipeline that supplies labor to Mesa County employers — and far more than just one program to develop the work force.

There’s a career development program that offsets wages while prospective employees learn on the job. There are college programs that prepare participants for a variety of careers. And there’s an apprenticeship program that turns high school students into valued staff.

Moreover, local agencies and organizations coordinate those programs, says Curtis Englehart, director of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction. “I think it’s a huge resource when we all collaborate.”

Englehart was among those who discussed work force development during a panel presentation at the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce quarterly membership meeting. Brigitte Sundermann, vice president of community college affairs at Colorado Mesa University, and Jamie McCloud, manager of the CareerWise apprenticeship program in Grand Junction, also discussed the efforts they oversee.

Brigitte Sundermann

Sundermann says nearly every program offered at Western Colorado Community College is geared to help employers, including those programs that prepare students to join the work force. “We try to grow our own within the valley.”

McCloud says the same thing about CareerWise. “We’re here to help you develop your work force. It’s a real benefit to employers.”

The Mesa County Workforce Center offers a variety of free programs and resources to help businesses looking for employees as well as people looking for jobs, Englehart says.

Jammie McCloud

The center posts job openings for local businesses that go out to more than 4,000 job seekers statewide also hosts hiring events, he says.

The center also offers testing and assessments of job applicants to verify their knowledge and skills, Englehart says.

Mesa County remains the first and only certified Work Ready Community in Colorado, he says. Certification means a community has taken steps to quantify the skills of the labor force, enlist the participation of employers and help businesses profile jobs.

In Mesa County, about 5,000 National Career Readiness Certificates have been issued to individuals. The certificates mean they’ve demonstrated on tests the skills necessary to perform varying proportions of the 21,000 jobs profiled in a national database. Those who’ve tested in Mesa County have performed 13 percent higher than the national average, Englehart says.

A career development program offers paid work experiences and on-the-job training to help people find jobs as well as assists employers by offsetting 50 percent to 75 percent of wages for two to three months. That’s helpful, Englehart says, as employers determine whether or not applicants constitute a good fit.

In addition, the Mesa County Workforce Center and CMU recently joined to fill a shared staff position to make connections between employers and students, he says.

Sundermann says WCCC offers certificate and associate degree programs that provide training for a range of careers, including those in aviation, construction and culinary arts. WCCC also offers safety classes required in the construction, energy and other sectors.

In addition, WCCC assists businesses in providing customized training, she says. “If there’s something you need, let me know.”

McCloud says the CareerWise program matches high school students and businesses in three-year apprenticeships.

Students work 12 to 16 hours a week during their junior year and 16 to 24 hours a week during their senior year. Students work full-time during their third year or continue to work part-time while attending college.

CareerWise apprentices offer employers in a range of industries a cost-effective strategy for attracting and developing talent, she says. “They really become an integrated part of your team.”

Asked about efforts to develop the portion of the work force that’s less educated, Englehart says the KickStart program helps teenagers and young adults ages 16 to 24 who are out of school with paid jobs and internships at no cost to employers. Participants also receive assistance from mentors and preparation to pass the General Educational Development test.

WCCC offers summer camps to help middle and high school students explore career options and learn technical skills, Sundermann says. The goal, she says, is to inspire students to consider additional education and training as they pursue their interests. “It just starts the excitement.”

For more information about resources offered by the Mesa County Workforce Center, Western Colorado Community College and CareerWise, visit, and