Colorado’s U.S. Rep. Jason Crow held a field hearing on Nov. 22 in which witnesses touted apprenticeships, online education and school reforms as solutions to future workforce needs.

Crow chairs the House Subcommittee on Innovation and Workforce Development, and wrote in a memo to his colleagues that “small firms simply do not have the human resource departments to handle the ever-changing needs, nor do they have the capacity to provide extensive on-the-job training required to up-skill workers to meet their needs.”

Colorado’s unemployment rate stands at 2.7%, below the national average. As such, government initiatives and public-private partnerships can fund technical educations for sectors that are struggling to recruit workers.

Noel Ginsburg, the founder and CEO of CareerWise, testified that traditional four-year degrees only effectively serve a small percentage of young adults, in part because of student loan debt.

Speaking to the model at CareerWise, the state’s apprenticeship program, Ginsburg said that apprenticeships differ from internships, the model of which is predicated on short-term, “low-value” tasks.

“Starting as juniors in high school, apprentices spend part of the week in school in their academic pursuits, and part of the week in the workplace, learning by doing, and producing meaningful, valuable work for the employer,” he said.

Matt Kaplan of the Outdoor Industry Association described an online certificate program that the association will debut in 2020, for which the University of Colorado and Western Colorado University will provide a curriculum relevant to careers in the outdoor industry. Topics will include sustainable product design and public lands management.

“Our hope is that these certificates will create the on-ramp needed into our growing sector and allow people to combine their personal passions with their professional pursuits,” Kaplan testified.

Speaking to an initiative in the Cherry Creek School District, Assistant Superintendent Sarah Grobbel mentioned that the Cherry Creek Innovation Campus — at which the hearing was held — will create Individualized Career and Academic Plans for the 1,000 students in its first year of operation in 2019.

“We opened our newest apprenticeship, Future Educator Pathway,” she said. “Like many industry partners, we are excited about the concept of ‘growing our own’ to create a pipeline of educators that may help us fill the future job shortage in education.”

Crow added in his memo that traditionally, labor unions helped to fill “middle skill” jobs that required less than a college degree but more than a high school diploma. One solution now is for businesses to “train the workforce early,” otherwise “they will be caught in a cycle of training workers much later in their life when it is considerably more expensive.”