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Pinnacol grant boosts workforce development initiatives in rural Colorado

January 7, 2020
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$50,000 grant supports students who intend to work in rural communities

To address rural workforce development gaps in our state, Pinnacol Assurance recently awarded a $50,000 grant to the Foundation for Colorado Community Colleges. Named the Pinnacol Scholars Program, the grant provides scholarships to students who intend to work in rural communities and are enrolled in high-need industries such as nursing, machining or other trade skills.

The 2019 Pinnacol Scholars Program scholarships were awarded to students pursuing degrees in rural communities near Alamosa, Cortez, Craig, Durango, La Junta, Lamar, Larimer County, Longmont, Pueblo, Rangely and Trinidad.

One scholarship went to Cassandra Mathews Larch, who is enrolled in the nursing program at Colorado Northwestern Community College in Craig. Larch, originally from Rifle, Colorado, is no stranger to the needs of a rural community. She plans to work as an acute care nurse in the rural mountain town of Meeker.

“I plan on staying and working in a rural area because it feels more like home,”said Larch. “The connection between the people is gold. I get to provide exceptional care for the locals — this brings me great pleasure, as I know they will get the care they deserve.”

Thanks to the Pinnacol Scholars Program scholarship, Larch got the financial help she needed to pursue her education.

“This lifted a huge weight off my shoulders so that I could work less and focus more on school,” said Larch.

Addressing critical workforce shortages

Eighty-six percent of Colorado employers say that skills gaps are a threat to their business, according to a Colorado Succeeds survey.  These gaps are particularly large in the medical and skilled-trade fields. The Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing Alliance estimates there will be 96,000 vacancies in the Colorado construction workforce by 2025. The National League for Nursing has said the nursing shortage in Colorado is twice the national average and the rate is projected to grow.

These bleak statistics point to a workforce crisis. When jobs are unfilled, economic growth is stunted and communities and individuals have less opportunity to thrive. The numbers are more dire in Colorado’s rural communities, which can face significant challenges attracting and retaining employees. The Pinnacol Scholars Program aims to change that trend by incentivizing highly-skilled graduates to work in rural areas.

Filling the pipeline through partnership with community colleges

There are few better partners to meet the needs of the 21st-century workforce than the Colorado Community College System.

“Community colleges fill a critical workforce need through training, pipeline development and direct collaboration with industry,” said Adam Cermak, executive director of the Foundation for Colorado Community Colleges. “This partnership makes a lot of sense. It’s a great way for Pinnacol to invest in activities that mirror and complement initiatives to advance this work in the state.”

With a focus on career and technical education, the Colorado Community College System serves more than 130,000 students at 13 colleges in 40 locations in Colorado. According to Cermak, nearly 50% of students are “Pell-eligible,” meaning that they are the most financially at risk.

“Scholarships are a huge factor for student success. They offer flexibility to take more credits, focus on academic work and alleviate the need for many students to have to work two jobs to afford tuition,” said Cermak. “We hear all the time that students who receive scholarships feel more of a drive to succeed because someone is investing in their future.”

FCCC received one of 34 grants awarded to Colorado nonprofits in 2019. The grants fall under three pillars — economic vitality and workforce development, employee safety and health, and rehabilitative health services.

For more information about Pinnacol’s approach to grant-making and its commitment to the community, visit our community relations page.

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