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First lady Jill Biden visits Colorado, calls the state a model for workforce training

First lady Jill Biden dressed in red sits with Colorado’s House speaker dressed in teal and Gov. Jared Polis.

First lady Jill Biden (middle) sits with Colorado House Speaker Julie McCluskie, a Dillon Democrat, and Gov. Jared Polis at the Colorado Capitol on Monday. The first lady visited Colorado to talk about the state’s investments in workforce training.

Jason Gonzales

First lady Jill Biden praised Colorado lawmakers for working across party lines to become a model in providing residents options to get workforce training in a visit Monday to the state’s Capitol. 

Biden visited Colorado as part of a national tour to highlight President Joe Biden’s investments and commitment to workforce training and how states have used federal money to prop up programs to help Americans. 

First lady Biden, a community college educator, focused mostly on Colorado’s community college programs during her talk with lawmakers at the Capitol. Over the last several years, the state has created programs to get more students to attend college and provide free training for in-demand fields. Biden said the state has become an example for others. 

In recent years, Colorado leaders have focused more on educating and training residents, especially because it has relied heavily on bringing in educated workers from other states. 

“I ask you to keep going,” she said. “Keep innovating.”

President Biden has made connecting workers to jobs a key part of his presidential agenda and has focused on investments that include pandemic relief money to develop job training in states. The administration has said its goal is to create more good-paying jobs for Americans. 

Jill Biden also touted spending in the president’s 2024 federal budget proposal to improve workforce training.

Colorado has used federal money to create several programs in the last year that help residents connect to job training, especially with two job openings for every employee. Gov. Jared Polis has highlighted the need to get residents the skills they need to land jobs.

For example, she highlighted the $26 million in federal relief money Colorado is using to get students free training in health care fields.

The state plans to also expand the program primarily at community colleges over the next two years. A bipartisan bill backed by Polis would spend $40 million over two years to provide free workforce training for other in-demand jobs such as manufacturing, law enforcement, and teaching. Another bill would provide about 15,000 high school students from the Class of 2024 with a $1,500 scholarship to use toward approved training.

The state also put together a committee to focus on how to improve Coloradans’ access to jobs. One of the recommendations, called the Opportunity Now Grants program, provides $85 million to create or expand ideas that bring together industry and schools to create opportunity for students. 

First lady Biden also highlighted that universal preschool is a major part of the birth-to-career pipeline that the Biden administration has pushed. 

Colorado is set to start its universal preschool program this summer. Colorado also has supported apprenticeship programs, and offers high school students the ability to graduate with a college certificate or degree.

Biden said Colorado has shown there are people on both sides of the aisle who want to help employers find the workers they need.

“There aren’t red ideas or blue ideas,” she said. “They’re American ideas. And you all have been investing in these programs for years.” 

State Sen. Jeff Bridges, a Greenwood Village Democrat, said Biden’s visit validates Colorado’s efforts  to provide opportunities to more students in the state. He said the state has tried to innovate to get more residents the training they need. He hopes more states look at what Colorado is trying to do. 

“It was time that we solved this problem in new and innovative ways,” Bridges said, “and that’s what we’re doing.”

Jason Gonzales is a reporter covering higher education and the Colorado legislature. Chalkbeat Colorado partners with Open Campus on higher education coverage. Contact Jason at jgonzales@chalkbeat.org.

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