Employers recruit from top systems of education

Computer repair instructor Greg Izett, second from left, gives Jessie Ward, 15, guidance as she and Patrick Williams, left, and Jo-el Little, 16, work on their own motherboards in the computer repair lab at the District 51 Career Center.

On the other side of a stripped PC frame, computer repair instructor Greg Izett, center, works with student Jenna Lytle, 16, on putting together a mother board as her fellow student Patrick Williams rebuilds his own in the Career Center’s hands-on computer repair lab.

Improving education is just smart for the local economy, said the head of local economic development.

Grand Junction Economic Partnership Chief Executive Officer and President Ann Driggers would love to see the Grand Valley become an education mecca.

In terms of economic development, “It would be huge,” she said.

“When we look at the criteria companies consider (before relocating), people consider work force quality, and we can read through that education is their No. 1 criteria,” Driggers said. “On a personal level, if an owner is moving here, they want their kid to have a good education.”

Teaching students from a young age not just facts but how to apply knowledge to unique situations makes for good students and good workers, according to Diane Schwenke, a member of the forum and president and chief executive officer of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce. Tack on the ability to communicate to diverse groups of people and work on teams with people from a variety of backgrounds, and Schwenke predicts business owners will want to hire people from Grand Junction. Moreover, they will want to move to Grand Junction to raise their children.

“If we had students a cut above everyone else, that would be a huge asset to the community,” Schwenke said.

The importance of having a world-class education in our backyard is tied to giving students the power to work wherever they want and keep pace with other job applicants, Schwenke said.

“I think a world-class education prepares our students at an intellectual level to compete worldwide. We’re starting to lose our position,” she said.

Any school district that can consistently produce intelligent graduates “is going to be an economic winner,” according to Tom Clark, executive director of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp. School District 51 may have room for improvement in Colorado Student Assessment Program proficiency, but the district’s students are growing better than the state average from year-to-year, which gives Superintendent Steve Schultz hope better student performance is ahead.

Better student performance could lead to a better economy, according to Clark. A community with an elite education system, he said, will attract and grow more educated people, and they tend to make more money and feed the gross domestic product growth of an area.

Some business recruiters have told Clark they advised companies to stay away from Colorado because of its higher-education system, which placed 48th in the nation in per-pupil funding from local and state sources in 2008. The complaint isn’t as common with Colorado’s K–12 system, Clark said, especially for businesses moving from California. But he said Colorado’s grade-school system isn’t as appealing as some in other states, such as Massachusetts.

Having a good higher-education system is important, Clark said, because businesses often begin recruiting future hires when they’re sophomores or juniors in college. Employees who work or do internships at a company while they’re still in college tend to stay with a company at least seven or nine years following graduation, compared to four years if the person is hired after graduation, Clark said.

Companies steering clear of Colorado and its college students subsequently miss out on recruiting products of Colorado’s K–12 system in many cases. Eighty-two percent of students last fall at four-year Colorado colleges and universities came from Colorado high schools, according to the state department of higher education.

Employers that do stay in Colorado or move here aren’t necessarily hiring natives. Colorado’s population expanded 31 percent between 1990 and 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. So many of the new arrivals were well-educated and appealing to employers that education and business communities gave the phenomenon a nickname, “The Colorado Paradox.” A 2004 study by the Bell Policy Center detailed how this phenomenon means lower pay and fewer job opportunities for less-educated people, native or not.

“Colorado’s reputation as one of the most highly educated states in the nation masks the reality that we do a poor job of educating and training many of our own young people and adults,” it says in the report. “This paradox is the result of many well-educated people moving to the state.”

Each graduate needs to be ready to compete in a global work force just to stay at home, let alone venture outside Colorado, Clark said. “It used to be lower-paying jobs that were going overseas, but we’re seeing jobs that are intelligence-based, particularly in technology and software, going overseas,” he said. “It’s a genuine threat.”

Students in other parts of the world, including China, India, South Korea, Canada and Russia, are increasing their college graduate totals. Enrollment of foreign students at U.S. colleges and universities hit a 29-year peak in 2008–09, according to the Institute of International Education. Sixty-one percent of Asian and European students who earned doctorates in science and engineering in 1998 in the United States were working in the U.S. in 2003, according to The National Science Foundation, up from about 40 percent in 1992.

Outsourcing can be out of a potential employee’s hands if the job leaves because someone will take less pay elsewhere. But Greg Izett, who teaches computer-repair courses at District 51’s Career Center, is hoping that teaching his students “21st century skills” will make their computer skills more marketable for positions in the U.S.

“Computers are going to change so much in the next 15 years. That’s where trouble-shooting and critical thinking for new situations is vital,” Izett said.

Critical thinking, understanding technology, technical writing and team-building skills are all part of the 21st century curriculum at the Career Center, according to Principal Dean Blair.

“Knowledge by itself isn’t very good if you don’t know how to apply that knowledge,” Blair said.

Blair said he’s not sure the U.S. has much “catching up” to do in that arena, but he believes the way to the top is to have more schools nationwide look at emphasizing application versus memorization of facts.

Mesa State College President Tim Foster said the skills Blair speaks of are what he looks for in an entering student.

“Students who are successful have good study skills, reading and writing skills and analytical-thinking skills,” he said. “If you can’t read, write or think critically, there’s not a (college) class you can take that I can think of.”


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