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Colorado business leaders come together for Job One

Baseball, construction, healthcare and higher education collided in Colorado on Monday.

CEOs and presidents of some of Colorado’s most successful companies came together for a televised panel on jobs and education, titled “Job One: Preparing America to Compete in the 21st Century.”

“We know that by 2018 more than two-thirds of the jobs in Colorado will require a post-secondary education,” Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said. “A good job, without question, begins with a good education.”

The panel, held at History Colorado, was hosted by EducationNation and moderated by Andrea Mitchell, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent.

Panelists included Linda Alvarado, president and CEO of Alvarado Construction, Bruce Benson, president of the University of Colorado, Richard Monfort, chairman/owner and CEO of the Colorado Rockies, and Kent Thiry, chairman and CEO of DaVita.

Three million U.S. jobs go unfilled because employers cannot find qualified workers. Even workers who are technically qualified often prove lacking upon hiring, panelists said.

“We find that our starting level people are missing the basics around reading, time management, and interpersonal interaction,” Thiry said.

Business leaders note “the Colorado paradox”

The “Colorado paradox,” which refers to the fact that Colorado has an influx of highly educated workers, but native Coloradans are often less educated than those who come from outside the state, was a favorite topic.

We are bringing people in to take the jobs rather than training our own people,” Benson said.

Monfort joked that CU was partially to blame for the Colorado paradox as people come in from out of state and end up wanting to stay in the mountains. Benson brought the discussion back to the issues.

“Anyone who is qualified in Colorado gets into the University of Colorado,” Benson said. “The real problem starts right at K-12 education.”

Despite representing different sectors, the businesswomen and men on the panel and in the audience seemed to agree that early childhood intervention leads to the greatest return on investment.

“Unless there is early childhood education for all, so many of the kids start behind,” Thiry said. “By the time they get to kindergarten or first grade they feel like they aren’t on the same track as others.”

Leaders tout early childhood programs

Kelly Brough, president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, spoke from the audience to say that research supported Thiry’s feelings.

“Ninety percent of the kids who drop out of high school will tell you they couldn’t read in third grade,” Brough said. “We are losing those kids before the age of 10.”

“We have to start education from the cradle,” Alvarado said. “Parents have to start reading to their kids. We need to get kids to the point where not only do they have the ability to graduate but the capacity to compete.”

Tackling the other end of the age pendulum, funding for secondary education in Colorado was also a concern for the majority of the room.

College funding remains an issue

“It used to be that 70 percent was paid by the state and 30 percent by the student,” Colorado Sen. Mike Johnston said as an audience member during the panel. “Now that is flipped.”

“Higher education is really, truly the state’s responsibility to fund a good portion of,” Thiry added.

DaVita, a Fortune 500 company that provides kidney care through dialysis, tries to step in where the state has stepped back by offering scholarships. Alvarado, however, thinks the status quo isn’t good enough.

“We in Colorado need to continue to take the lead,” Alvarado said. “While it’s important what we have done here, what’s more important is what we do when we leave here.”

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