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Meeting workforce needs of today and tomorrow

June 6, 2018
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Every month, Pinnacol CEO Phil Kalin reflects on the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation's latest economic indicator report. His position at Pinnacol, with its 57,000 Colorado customers, gives him insight into the business trends - and what they may say about the future. See his latest post below and past articles here.

One theme that consistently underlies the monthly economic forecasts is the challenge businesses of all types face in attracting and retaining the workforce they need. Whether it’s app developers, skilled construction tradespeople or insurance underwriters – virtually every type of position you can imagine is in demand.

While the problem is nationwide, there are some unique assets in Colorado that can help employers here get an edge.

A standout is CareerWise Colorado, an apprenticeship program unlike any other in the country. Endorsed by Governor Hickenlooper, it’s based on the Swiss model, where 70 percent of professionals complete an apprenticeship before moving on to post-secondary education and careers. CareerWise connects high school students with 42 Colorado employers in fields that you probably never thought lent themselves to apprenticeships, like financial services, IT, and health care, plus advanced manufacturing.

As a CEO, I am all-in on this model. In fact, I believe in it so much that my company, Pinnacol Assurance, currently has 20 apprentices – more than any other employer in Colorado. Our apprentices (who went through a competitive interview process like any job applicant) will be with us for three years. During their junior and senior years of high school they spend two to three days per week at our office getting paid, hands-on work experience; they’ll transition to working for us full-time after they graduate. When they complete their apprenticeships in 2020, each will have earned up to 40 hours of debt-free college credit and a nationally-recognized industry certification – and we anticipate that many of them will choose to continue working for us.

I’m bullish on this model because of what I said at the beginning of this piece. Like every other employer, I face a lot of competition in hiring, training, and keeping the skilled workforce my company needs. It’s not just the insurance professionals like underwriters and claims reps; it’s the software developers, customer experience reps, HR professionals – you name it. And that’s complicated by the fact that the skills our people will need for their own, and Pinnacol’s, future success are changing even as we speak.

No wonder, then, that growing our own workforce of the future has tremendous appeal. Our apprentices spent the last year rotating throughout different departments, shadowing employees and receiving customer service training. Now they are joining specific teams, such as underwriting, claims, information services, and communications. They’ve already built notable skills. For example, one of our apprentices is working with our process improvement team and is laying the groundwork to become a project manager or Lean coach. Another has already developed such strong chops at managing our medical records that long-time employees are looking to her for ideas.

In a region with record-low unemployment, every employer must think creatively about how to meet its workforce needs not only today but in the future. CareerWise Colorado is a tool that can help Colorado employers in all fields do just that.

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