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Funding secured for professional certificate program
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Funding secured for professional certificate program

A new collaboration called the Rural Upskill Network is a workforce enablement program being developed by Fort Lewis College and La Plata Economic Development Alliance aimed at bolstering the local workforce through micro certifications. Identified and co-designed by industry partners, the certificates address skills to advance their careers.

“All desirable communities like ours are dealing with the same issues of affordability, which has directly impacted our workforce. Key sectors of our economy are not able to recruit or retain critical roles, so we have to look within,” said Michael French, La Plata Economic Development Alliance executive director. “Addressing skill gaps in the existing or potential workforce is a way we can impact those industries.”

Project RUN recently received a $1.2 million dollar seed grant through Opportunity Now Colorado, an $85 million grant program funded through the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade and HB22-1350. The program funds innovative solutions to meet Colorado’s workforce needs through partnerships that create intentional pathways between education systems and employers and opportunities for regional workers and students to be more economically mobile.

The Alliance conducted an analysis of industry trends between January 2021 and October 2022 and a series of focus groups with local employers to identify gaps in the workforce. The analysis revealed that employers have difficulty recruiting and retaining high-caliber employees at entry, mid, and executive levels of employment. Employees have expectations for wages as living costs increase, but their skill sets don’t meet the qualifications for job postings. This mismatch has left employers across numerous sectors facing labor supply issues.

The need for a skilled workforce is critical to the economic stability of the region—a need that can be filled by Project RUN.

“Our goal is to strengthen the workforce by offering opportunities for diverse learners to complete certificate coursework, spurring career advancement. It’s important we work to serve regional students by meeting them where they are in their academic and professional endeavors.”

FLC President Tom Stritikus

FLC is the premier higher education institution of the Southwest, with a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. FLC’s unique mission will help inform Project RUN’s professional certificates with relevant curricula, and the institution’s connection to rural communities will link the program to underserved populations.

“Our goal is to strengthen the workforce by offering opportunities for diverse learners to complete certificate coursework, spurring career advancement,” said FLC President Tom Stritikus. “It’s important we work to serve regional students by meeting them where they are in their academic and professional endeavors.”

Project RUN will focus on unique programmatic elements to drive equity, including transportation stipends and childcare provided during onsite class sessions. The program will also build “innovation hubs” across the region to house remote classrooms for students to learn in a location closer to home and with other learners.

Based on the regional workforce analysis led by the Alliance, there were over 55,000 jobs posted between January 2021 and October 2022. Of those, Government, Healthcare/Social Assistance, Construction, Professional/Scientific/Technical Services, Manufacturing, Administrative Support, and Finance were all within the top 10 regional industries. Registered nurses, customer service representatives, wholesale manufacturing representatives, retail representatives, sales representatives, and administrative assistants all ranked in the top 10 occupations listed, totaling over 1,000 job postings.

Project RUN plans to target each of these industries, directly impacting and improving their labor supply. The professional certificates will be designed through a series of collaborative design sprints on an annual basis with representatives from these industries. 

“We are excited to be partnering with FLC to lead this program that will upskill and reskill in an innovative way, creating micro-certifications by industry and for industry,” French said. 

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