There is business activity abuzz within in the walls of the Greater Colorado Springs Economic Development Corp.; the economy is starting to turn around; jobs are opening up.
Dr. Fred Crowley, associate professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, reassured attendees at a June 17 workshop, sponsored by the Pikes Peak Workforce Center, that things are looking up. Peggy Herbertson, executive director of the Workforce Center, said Crowley and John Cassiani, vice-president of marketing for the EDC, were optimistic about the Springs job outlook and new possibilities for Springs-based businesses. Herbertson said Cassiani reported that the EDC has “courted” 32 new business contacts since February.
The Workforce Center, a federally funded career center linking employers to job seekers, is addressing, through a series of educational seminars, the challenges faced by local underemployed or unemployed high-tech workers. The June workshop was the third in the “New Directions” series.
Herbertson said that, even though not all of EDC’s new prospects are related to high technology, the “build up of businesses in the area is a good thing.” EDC buzzwords for a strong economic future and a solid employment base are diversification and balance. “Every employer will, at some time or another, have peaks and valleys,” Herbertson said. “So it’s important to have a variety of industries offsetting one another in order to maintain a constant employment level.”
Presenting a variety of employment options to high-tech professionals is important as well, Herbertson said. “There are some workers who are diehards to the field, and they won’t consider branching out,” she said. “Others see opportunities to grow and learn new skills, and it’s exciting to present new concepts to them in areas like biotechnology and nanotechnology.”
Whatever their goals, Herbertson said it is imperative that high-tech professionals, especially the underemployed or unemployed, stay connected and up-to-date on industry trends and new technology fields. The Workforce Center offers an Internet technology networking group and a newsletter specifically targeted to high-tech. Paula Ferguson, a program specialist with the Workforce Center, said, “We are always finding new and better ways of doing things, so it’s important to stay on top of what’s happening in high tech and know what new skill sets are needed.”
The networking group also serves as a support system for high-tech professionals, building a “sense of camaraderie” and confidence, Herbertson said.
The Workforce Center is helping Springs teenagers and young adults build confidence and career goals at a new facility geared to 14-to-21 year olds. The Youth Work Zone, at 8 S. Nevada Ave., is a place where young people can go to seek career guidance and exploration, skills assessment and job and educational opportunities. The zone was the brainchild of the children who regularly visited the center at its East Pikes Peak Avenue location. Herbertson said the children did not feel comfortable mingling with the adults – they wanted their own site. The Youth Work Zone is fully staffed, and offers a resource room equipped with computers and Internet access.
Counselors at the zone help the children develop resumes, basic work skills and skills needed for specific areas of interest. “We tell them that if they are going to have a good career, education is important and they will be learning their whole life,” Herbertson said.
Although the program’s focus is long-term career planning, there are summer and after-school job opportunities posted at the zone. Teens who are 16 and younger are not having a lot of success finding summer jobs, Ferguson said. Employers have limits to what younger people can do, and the employers have ample choices among the employment pool. The older children are getting jobs, and many of those jobs are in fast-food restaurants. Some teenagers are willing to take those jobs, Ferguson said, even though their non-working peers who frequent the restaurants often intimidate them. Regardless of the peer pressure, fast-food restaurants are great places to learn lifelong skills, such as time management, teamwork and working under pressure, Ferguson said.
She said some of the teenagers have dreams of “becoming a famous athlete or a Star Search winner,” but counselors advise them to have back-up plans. “We try to make sure that one foot is grounded in reality,” Ferguson said.
The support of the business community is paramount to the success of the youth program. The business community is encouraged to get involved by participating in workshops and work experience programs. “We can place a young person in a career-oriented position with area businesses and help pay their wages,” she said.
Ferguson and Herbertson agreed that nurturing the youth of any community is a plus for a healthy economy.
In a June news release, Herbertson said, “Our youth are the future workforce of the Pikes Peak region, and we want to help them achieve their full potential.”
The Workforce Center’s IT networking group meets Tuesdays from 9 to 11 a.m. An executive networking group for managers who are unemployed or underemployed meets Wednesdays, from 10 a.m. to noon, and a general networking group meets the first and third Tuesdays from 1 to 3 p.m. All groups meet at the main office on Pikes Peak Avenue.
For more information about all of the programs offered at the Workforce Center, log onto www.ppwfc.org.