Strategic planning: Regents explore state’s future workforce needs

Changing demographics, disruptive technology require evolution of education

Rapidly changing demographics and disruptive technology will drive profound change in Colorado’s workforce over the next decade, providing challenges and opportunities for education across CU.

The Board of Regents mulled that forecast during an economic outlook overview and panel discussion at Friday’s meeting at CU Denver. The topic is tied to the ongoing development of CU’s new systemwide strategic plan.

“We have big challenges in front of us,” President Mark Kennedy said following discussion by groups of board members, CU leaders and business experts. “Almost everything reported out from the various groups says we need to change, we need to be more nimble.”

Eyeing a period of “growth with uncertainty,” Richard Wobbekind – executive director of the Business Research Division and associate dean for business and government relations, and senior economist at CU Boulder – summarized trends that framed presentations from a panel of experts.

Discussing “The Future of Colorado’s Workforce Needs” were Kelly Brough, president and CEO, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce; Chris Gessner, president and CEO, University of Colorado Hospital; Joelle L. Martinez, executive director of the Latino Leadership Institute; and Christian Reece, executive director, Club 20. Sharon Matusik, dean and professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at CU Boulder’s Leeds School of Business, and co-chair of the strategic planning effort, moderated.

Martinez described the opportunity provided by a “rapidly growing Latino superpower,” fueled by a post-millennial Latino population that is earning college degrees at a higher rate than previous generations. “It’s rapid growth and untapped potential,” said Martinez, who also cautioned that such students don’t necessarily feel a sense of belonging at campuses such as CU Boulder.

Latinos already in the job market – along with American Indians and African Americans – are the current job holders most likely to be replaced by automation, Brough said. Automobile drivers, clerks, food preparers and machine operators all are more likely than others to lose jobs to automation in the coming years.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) poses a bigger threat to Asian Americans and whites currently holding similar jobs, Brough said.

“Soon, your head of your chamber will be a machine telling you way better information than I can tell you,” she said. “The speed of these changes is eye-opening, and thinking about that reality has to be a critical part of how you think about the future.”

The rise of automation and AI also brings jobs, Brough said, “but probably not the ones people have been trained for.”

Grand Junction’s Reece highlighted economic shifts beyond the Front Range, including the evolution of natural resource extraction, diminished farming and an aging population. The latter is true for demographics across the state, Gessner said, “which will have a huge impact on health care. We need to gear up for that here in Colorado.”

Gessner identified nursing – “a knowledge worker job that’s very physically demanding” – as a critical workforce need in the coming decade, as well as primary care physicians, systems engineers and genetic counselors.

Brough said CU will need to work to maintain and build the pipeline from Colorado’s schools to the university, all the more crucial in light of a birthrate drop that has the pool of graduating high school seniors shrinking in the coming decade. She also pointed to the growing need for education of the current workforce.

“Lifelong learning is fully here,” she said. “Throughout your career, you must be retrained. How do you provide more skills, more ongoing training? We have to get innovative.”

At the meeting, Matusik and Todd Saliman, system vice president for finance and chief financial officer, updated the board on progress of the strategic planning process. The co-chairs of the strategic planning committee said key metrics recently were delivered by working groups, and leadership has been processing that information with the steering committee. Action steps associated with those metrics are forthcoming.

“The metrics have been really interesting,” Saliman said. “One of the big challenges has been picking which ones we want to focus on – we don’t want to have 120 metrics.

“We’re already seeing some action steps starting to emerge and they’re very exciting. We’re making good progress and we’re on time.”