Polis Administration Launches Innovative Grant Program to Connect Colorado Workers with New Opportunities

Governor Polis and the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT) announced a new grant program: Opportunity Now Colorado. The grant program is designed to help communities across Colorado create and expand innovative workforce and talent development initiatives. The goal of the program is to help connect more Coloradans with in-demand, high-skill, high-wage occupations.

“Our administration is committed to creating opportunities for Coloradans to get the skills they need to build careers they love,” said Gov. Polis. “We’re excited about the collaborative effort between the education and business communities, the opportunities that this new grant program will provide, and how the grants will help build our workforce, create jobs, and retain homegrown talent.”  

While Colorado’s economic recovery has been one of the strongest in the country, to continue that growth the Polis administration is committed to modernizing how Colorado’s education and training partners support developing skills that are important to workers and to business.

Across the state, employers are looking to hire the top talent that Colorado is known for, yet job openings have outpaced new hires. In June 2022, there were 208,000 job openings and 129,000 hires, a difference of nearly 38%. Opportunity Now Colorado, established by HB22-1350, was created to help Coloradans develop the skills and experience they need to apply for and secure these job opportunities.

House Speaker-designate Julie McCluskie, Rep. Janice Rich, and Sens. Jeff Bridges and Paul Lundeen led this important bipartisan legislation and the sponsors recognized an opportunity to help workers train for and transition into new fields. As many as 600,000 Coloradans have some college or no degree, while 250,000 do not have a high school diploma. At the same time, 35,000 women left the workforce during the pandemic. By creating opportunities for these workers to connect with new positions, Opportunity Now Colorado and the programs it supports can help individuals and communities recover from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Opportunity Now Colorado provides the resources for communities to create programs that address worker shortages and provide workers with high-wage, meaningful jobs. Through innovative, regional programs we can foster on-the-job training, apprenticeships, and other forms of training and education that help Coloradans and our state’s economy not only recover from the pandemic but thrive,” said Speaker-designate Julie McCluskie, a primary sponsor of HB22-1350.

Opportunity Now grants will support regional partnerships in which educational institutions, industry leaders, and employers work together to meet current and future workforce development needs across Colorado. Emphasis will be placed on programs that create intentional pathways between one phase of education or employment to another and foster opportunities for regional “learners and earners” to be more economically mobile.

“Opportunity Now will help Coloradans across the state develop new skills so they can transition into Colorado’s fastest growing industries,” said Patrick Meyers, OEDIT Executive Director. “When workers have the support they need to adapt to a changing economy, families, communities and the entire state of Colorado benefit.”

“Colorado’s Opportunity Now Grant Program will serve as a catalyst towards permanently transforming Colorado’s learner-to-earner pathways by emphasizing alignment and responsiveness to workforce needs. Coloradans will ultimately benefit through increased opportunities and choices for personal and professional success,” said Debbie Brown, President of the Colorado Business Roundtable.

“Mile High United Way has a 135-year history of living united – it is who we are in Colorado. We are honored to partner with Gov. Polis and the Office of Economic Development and International Trade, Common Group, Strada Education Network, and WestEd to create a path of economic mobility for all Coloradans and strengthen our state’s economy by building a skilled workforce for key industries. We invite businesses large and small to embrace Opportunity Now and continue to build a state that thrives,” said Christine Bernero, president and CEO of Mile High United Way.

The program will provide nearly $85 million in grant funds to initiatives that improve access to jobs that provide a living wage; help close regional workforce shortages, particularly in healthcare, infrastructure and early childhood and K-12 education; and work on long-term collaborations between industry, education and workforce providers. The program is also intended to support historically underserved groups with the goal of ensuring equitable economic recovery from the impacts of Covid-19.

“Opportunity Now’s specific focus on meeting the demands of industry and ensuring industry partners are core partners will allow Colorado to better meet regional economic needs and build long-term career pathways,” said David Eddy, Colorado Site Director, Boeing and member of the Steering Committee for Opportunity Now.

Three grant tracks are available for projects and initiatives at various stages of the development process, including design, pilot, and launch. The first application period is open until January 23, 2023 with more to follow in 2023 and 2024. More information can be found at Opportunity Now Colorado.

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