Editorial: Business must improve labor skills or suffer

Northern Colorado pats itself on the back for having a highly skilled work force. In reality, much ground remains to be covered for that statement to be true in all occupations.

As NCBR writers Jim Sample and Brian Metzler relates in this month’s edition, business leaders in a variety of industries, from Eastman Kodak Co. to Starpak Inc., have expressed grave concerns about shortages of qualified labor.

Many companies are unable to fill positions because applicants either aren’t qualified or don’t even bother to show up for interviews. The problem is so severe that chambers of commerce in Fort Collins, Greeley and Loveland have established a task force to address the issue.

Community colleges and universities, too, have designed programs to train workers in a variety of skills.

Such efforts should be commended. Economic-development officials have identified the shortage of qualified labor as a major impediment to the region’s economic well-being.

Why is it so important? If existing businesses can’t hire qualified workers here, they very likely will move elsewhere. Shortage of labor means escalation in wages, making the area less attractive for business in general. And no company will move to a region that can’t meet its labor requirements.

Business leaders believe that in addition to working with the area’s community colleges and universities, they must work with high schools and vocational schools, which can be the source of many employees. Training people at an early age will do much to alleviate the problem in the long run.

In the meantime, let’s not grow too complacent about our work force. We can’t afford to.