SMLR’s Researchers Analyze and Report On Colorado’s SECTORS Initiative

Strategies Are Recommended To Help Improve The State’s Economic Conditions

Throughout the country, at least 24 states and many regions are adopting sector strategies as a powerful mechanism to address employer and workforce needs. Sector strategies—state policies that promote regional, public-private partnerships to improve an industry’s workforce—have the dual goal of improving access to good jobs for workers and meeting industry’s need for a skilled labor force. The State of Colorado has adopted Strategies to Enhance Colorado's Talent Through Regional Solutions (SECTORS) and tasked Rutgers SMLR’s research team to analyze the results of its pilot programs.

“Sector strategies have emerged as a promising model for economic development, inspiring experimentation, research, and scholarship over the last decade,” says Heather McKay, SMLR director of Innovative Training and Workforce Development Programs. “This approach could  help Colorado maintain its economic competitiveness.”

Sector initiatives rely on local partnerships that are led by employers and include workforce development, economic development, education, and other stakeholders to identify and address the highest priority workforce challenges of the industry. In 2008, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) and the Colorado Workforce Development Council (CWDC) partnered to pilot a sector-based approach to workforce and economic development. In May 2009, CDLE and CWDC issued the first round of Colorado SECTORS Initiative pilot planning grants. Funds for the initiative came from the Governor’s discretionary budget under the Workforce Investment Act (WIA).

Through the SECTORS Initiative, 10 grants (nine implementation grants and one planning grant) were geographically dispersed throughout the state and focused on a variety of industry sectors including aerospace, renewable energy, water/wastewater operations, manufacturing, and healthcare. The goals are to create a more skilled workforce, new career pathways in targeted sectors, increase capacity and opportunities for training, and streamline workforce center procedures to better meet the changing needs of business. Over the course of the grants, 1,018 unique individuals entered training and 991 completed those programs.

From March 2012 to March 2013, Heather McKay and SMLR’s researchers, Suzanne Michael, Laura Barrett, and Renee Edwards, studied the 10 grants. The research team conducted phone interviews with project leaders, visited each project site, and analyzed program documents.

“We sought to understand how the sector partnerships and related programs were implemented, the challenges that emerged, and lessons learned; as well as the best practices that developed.” says Suzanne Michael.

Rutgers has produced 10 individual case studies that discuss the experiences, challenges, and successes of each of the partnerships as well as a final comprehensive report that provides a look across all these partnerships to create a broad picture of Colorado’s statewide SECTORS grant initiative. Among their recommendations, they found that the state should:

·         Align existing and new sector partnerships with other industry-focused efforts, such as the state’s Key Industry Networks (KINs); and affiliate with industry councils and Economic Development Corporations.

·         Explore the possibility of multi-region initiatives to better serve industry needs and respond to supply chain and workforce issues.

·         Identify and create a basic ROI model that can be refined by industry to quantify the impact of training on a company’s workforce, productivity, and profits.

Heather McKay presented the results of the research to the Colorado Sector Steering Committee on March 21st 2013. 

“The research provides some very important information on how Sector Strategies have been implemented in Colorado,” McKay says. “The state plans to use this information to help sustain current sector partnerships and develop new ones. It could also be helpful to other states looking to establish programs like these.”

To read the brief summaries of the sector partnerships, including the employment data, and recommendations, visit