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Chamber of Commerce leaders Candace and Kirstin’s Vision for Grand Junction – Koolers Lifestyle Podcast Ep.15

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00:00:00 Kristin Maska
Yeah. So the range sometimes fluctuates a little bit, but typically it’s like 14 to 24 is considered like youth to young adults. Some federal programming is tied to more strong age requirements. But like in our partnerships with the workforce Center, we work with students 14 and up and a lot of the way that we can kind of target the age range and those is a lot of these programs are specifically meant for students of that age. So we just kind of. Work there. We take a look at all these programs we have. Who would fit best here? Who would be best served by this? What are those requirements and guidelines? And then we kind of just can plug students and employers in there. So that’s kind of a really good way to do that.

00:00:45 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Welcome to the Cooler Lifestyle podcast. I’m your host, Matt Kielhorn, and I’m excited to have you join me as I interview community members and business leaders from the communities in which I live, work and serve through my business cooler garage doors. We’re going to bring you highlights on characters. In our communities. Why? Because Community matters, and I want to know more about who is behind our business and leadership in order to understand and support the Community fabric that our relationships make up. And collectively, we can build stronger communities that support our lifestyles, our youth, and our health. Hello, ladies and gentlemen and thank you for joining the Cooler Lifestyle Podcast today. I have two guests from the Grand Junction Junction Chamber of Commerce. I have a Candace Carnahan who is the current President and CEO and I have Kirsten Masca who’s a workforce development coordinator. Thank you so much for joining us today. You too.

00:01:48 Kristin Maska
Thank you for having us.

00:01:50 Candice Carnahan
Glad to be here.

00:01:51 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah. What I’m interested in in talking about today and you know it’s all round workforce development in Grand Junction and they’re rounding area and I know one of the focuses that we spoke about before hitting the record button here was a run the youth force pipeline specifically. So I just want to open it up and. Allow both of you to speak and and whoever is best to take on the first conversation, jump in because where are we at today? What are kind of what are we looking at today and where have we come from?

00:02:26 Candice Carnahan
Yeah, absolutely Matt. I think that youth based learning opportunities and partnerships are something that we as an organization have set as a priority. But communities really across the nation are really seeing important focus on you know 40% of U.S. jobs are in occupational categories that are expected to shrink by 2030. And so it’s really important that we as. Organizations focused on strong workforce are getting out in front of potential shortages by partnering with whether it’s K through 12 systems, our workforce center here in town and really make sure that we all see this as a priority, especially when we’re trying to ensure a nimble workforce that is constantly evolving. And So what we did actually is back in 2015, we. Went ahead and collaborated with the school district and the Workforce Center and created the Workforce Development Coordinator position that Kirsten currently is holding, and it’s housed here in the Chamber. It’s very unique because what it does is it creates this bridge between our students, usually ranging from middle school to college, and really helps play matchmaker with our business community and allowing them to get some experience on the job experience, explore career opportunities that they might be interested in, also discover ones that they thought they were interested in and maybe not quite so much anymore, which we’ve all kind of been through in our career. Development and you know, at the end of the day, it’s really just about creating pathways to successful career development and that strong talent pipeline here locally within our youth, yeah.

00:04:24 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Amazing OA, lot of partnership, a lot of connectivity, a lot of potential opportunity for young professionals to gain some real life experience and also test the waters. In different opportunities. Kirsten. I listened to a presentation that you brought in and I just want to say I love the passion that you have for for working with what you have going on. When we’re talking about where this could go. Where are we going? And what I mean by that is, you know, I know there’s a lot of challenges for employers to find great employees and there’s a big shift going on. I mean, we’re talking about population shifts into Grand Junction we’re talking about. You know, a different dynamic with like a boomer generation hitting retirement and you know maybe some of the other generations being a smaller cohort. So it’s hard to pinpoint one opportunity, one challenge, but where do you see us going in this, in this realm of workforce, especially with the youth?

00:05:42 Kristin Maska
Well, in my opinion, the sky literally is the limit. And I think something that we’ve seen probably maybe a little bit more post pandemic and things like that is employers are starting to become more open to the idea of tapping into that talent pool, which is our youth. It’s one of our largest untapped talent pools. And I think that sometimes youth get a bad rap. I get it. But sometimes, you know, employers like you know, it would be a great idea. We like the way that.

00:06:12 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Towns, we think it’s wonderful, but we got a lot of stuff going on over here. So I think that just in general we’re moving towards a more like understanding way of seeing that this really is an awesome. Solution to workforce problems, we have, and Candace can attest this, we have employers daily saying, you know, what do we do? It’s been two years and we still can’t get employees. And you know, we’re here with our partners to say like let us match you with these really dedicated motivated students. We work really closely with a partner with the school district and he just has this way of finding these students that are ready to dive in. And I think we’re seeing employers are a little bit more open to that and they’re trying it out. That’s awesome. Alright, I wanna pick into that a little bit more. But before I go, you know this is the first conversations or we’ve had two people and one of the questions I always love to ask. And Candice, I already know this a little bit from you, our previous conversation. So I want to ask Kirsten, where did you grow up?

00:07:18 Kristin Maska
Ohh OK. Born and raised in Grand Junction.

00:07:21 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Love it.

00:07:21 Kristin Maska
I’m like the 3rd or 4th generation so we’ve been here for a minute.

00:07:26 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Went to all Grand Junction High schools, graduated from Grand Junction High School, graduated from Colorado, Mesa University. Candace kind of brought up this is perfect. We don’t always end up in the pathway we thought we would. I have a degree in criminal justice, worked in a Correctional Facility for a while, worked in child welfare, made my way over to the workforce center working with youth and then landed myself here. So I’m an exact example of sometimes you try things out and it’s not what you thought it was going to be in and you end up in a different pathways. Well, yeah, that’s awesome. And Candice, I know you grew up in Grand Junction as well and and the roots here are are incredibly strong. So it’s beautiful, yes. Kirsten, when you’re talking about the youth, who specifically are we talking about? What are the age groups and what are some examples of these partnerships where youth are adding value to to businesses?

00:08:23 Kristin Maska
Yeah. So the range sometimes fluctuates a little bit, but typically it’s like 14 to 24 is considered like youth to young adults. Some federal programming is tied to more strong age requirements. But like in our partnerships with the workforce Center, we work with students 14 and up and a lot of the way that we can kind of target the age range in those is a lot of these programs are specifically meant for students of that age. So we just kind of. Work there. We take a look at all these programs we have. Who would fit best here? Who would be best served by this? What are those requirements and guidelines? And then we kind of just can plug students and employers in there. So that’s kind of a really good way to do that copy of that.

00:09:09 Matthew Kuehlhorn
In is this program reaching to some of the youth that might be underserved in other areas?

00:09:17 Kristin Maska
Yes, we so we’ve always wanted that to be a focus of ours and we know that sometimes even though that’s something we want, we don’t always reach those students. So most recently in the last few years, we’ve really partnered up with a school district even more than we always we already were before we sent out an Advisory Council for their Invictus program. And that’s a program for students that are having some barriers. They may be on a track to not finish school, maybe some. Attendance problems, things like that. So we work closely with that program and those students, we were actually able to pair one of those students with one of our employers to start an apprenticeship. And then the a program at the Workforce Center specifically targets youth that might have barriers ranging from they might already be parents to they may have but plan at school to they have mental health issues, it could be a number of things. And so with all of those together really helps us kind of target. In a positive way, those underserved populations, yeah.

00:10:21 Candice Carnahan
And Matt, I think it’s really important to also just follow it up with talking about the diversity in options that we have. We understand that it’s not a one-size-fits-all for the students side of things, but also the employers side of things. And so whether it be an apprenticeship, a job shadow, an internship, we really want to try to sit down and listen to both sides and find what’s going to be the most. Sustainable and successful model to use within that relationship and a lot of these programs too are built to really develop long term success for both sides of the equation. And so for apprenticeships for instance under career wise it which is our program that we run through career wise Colorado, these apprenticeships are to the benefit of both. We want to make sure that the employer is getting the chance to develop their future workforce but the student. That’s involved is really learning that there’s a pathway to career success and we actually provide additional learning and certification at no cost. To the student to help push them down the path of success and a higher skill development level. And so when you partner that with even programming that we offer that helps develop skills of in your existing workforce, we call it reskilling and upskilling. We want to continue to invest in that workforce so. I think the biggest thing to remember about workforce it, it is not a stagnant thing. It is a constant development and it truly is a pipeline. We all know pipelines must flow and so we have to get these students into the pipeline, but also continue to keep them on that track and pushing them forward into the future. And so that’s why it’s critical that we’re making sure that we are very. Careful to find successful pathways for all involved.

00:12:21 Matthew Kuehlhorn
I love that. So I’m hearing apprenticeship, internship job shadow. And let’s dissect maybe the two different pipelines in here. Oh, how does a student get engaged? With this type of opportunity.

00:12:40 Kristin Maska
Yeah. So we’ve worked really hard these last couple years kind of training ourselves, the students and also teachers within the school district, counselors, things like that. So what we’ve kind of set up is that it becomes unknown thing that the teachers, counselors, librarians, whoever they know about it and these students literally just have to say, hey, I think I might want to be a veterinarian. And that information makes its way over to myself. For our school district partner Beau Tobin and we. Sit down and talk to the student and say what is it that you’re interested in? Do you want to jump right into an internship? Do you want a shadow for a couple of hours? What does that look like for you? And then from that point, I start reaching out to employers. You know, I pull up employers that have offered experiences in the past or employers that I think might also benefit. And we say, hey, we have a handful of students, one student, whatever it might be, that would really love to come in and kind of chat with you. Do you have an afternoon available? Are you interested? Would you like to get involved in workforce development and. Then it kind of goes from there, but really just an open dialogue in the school I think has been what’s been the most helpful in getting students. Aware of what’s going on. And it’s still, I mean, I’ll go to presentations and the students are like, what? No, Mike, how did they not know? But it’s it’s every year there’s new students. So yeah, I just gotta keep spreading the word and then they kind of make their way to us. But then we do also go in and present to them or show them options. We’ll do big class presentations in the library or things like that. We just try and spread the word as much as possible.

00:14:15 Matthew Kuehlhorn
That’s amazing how many students are currently involved.

00:14:19 Kristin Maska
Ohh my gosh. So I probably should have this number prepared. We have 15 apprentices. Um, we I don’t know currently how many interns but we finished last year with I believe Courtney from Candice maybe 75 wow 75 internships and a lot of them were actually paid internships through a grant through the workforce Center and the school district. And then I believe we connected 60 job shadows. I’m Candace is giving me the dog. Yes. So I mean quite a few students have been served and we also helped put together. A workforce development day at Grand Junction High School where we reached out to employers and said, hey, if you’re hiring and you hire youth, come down to this high school, it’s an all day long thing. And I just got word last week that two of our students that were hired through there are actually still working for that employer. And that was in September. So that’s super exciting. So yeah,

00:15:18 Matthew Kuehlhorn
wow, super cool.

00:15:19 Candice Carnahan
And I think that that’s, that’s such a a great success story, Kirsten, because when we have students who are involved in these jobs. Those apprenticeships for let’s say the last two years of high school and then they’re graduating and diving right into a a well paid career, that’s that’s huge and and you know the the path to careers are different for everyone as well whether it’s through higher education, trade, schools, certifications. Every piece is what completes the full workforce puzzle. And we need, we need all of it. And so if we can help these students figure out what will best work for them, keep our economy strong, make sure that we’re we’re completely adjusting for that ever changing workforce need. It’s hard to lose when you have that sort of partnership and vision with the development of the workforce here in our community.

00:16:17 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah. What I love about this is, you know, all the different opportunities for youth. And to your point, Candace, you know the. The. The pathway to careers is different for individuals and the pathway to education is different. O while our school systems are strong and provide great curriculum and education, some of the students do really benefit from the hands-on, from the diving in the experiential component. So just to confirm, what I’m hearing is if there’s a student or a parent of a student listening to this that thinks their student would benefit or see an opportunity or all they need to do is be like. Raise their hand and say yo, I’d love to check out. Veterinarian, garage doors, whatever. Yeah, right, like that, easy,

00:17:06 Candice Carnahan
absolutely. And Matt, I think one side that we forget to talk about as much because we talk about the career development, but professional development, just soft skills that really our youth needs to be focusing on as well. And our our education system does a great job preparing them for so many things. But when you can get out and you’re interacting whether it be customer service, project management. Deadlines. Financial responsibility, all of these things help contribute to. Just a successful community moving forward because we’re really developing these well-rounded youth that are going out for whatever career path may fall in front of them in the future.

00:17:52 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yes, yes, great point.

00:17:53 Kristin Maska
Another little success story I like to kind of pop in when we talk about this is throughout of all of our programming. Not every student makes it all the way to the very end, but that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t still value in it to the employer. So for example, we had an employer DT. This. And they had an apprentice and he was with him. I think he made it about a year and a half and then he got a scholarship to the School of Mines. So obviously everyone’s like you have to take that, including the employer who was going to be out an employee. And they told him, you know, we are so proud of you. You did such an amazing job. Go to school, come back to us and you can work in any of our offices, even over in Switzerland, out of a high school apprenticeship that he technically didn’t. Closeout successfully. But how much more successful can you get than that? So it’s amazing.

00:18:43 Matthew Kuehlhorn
That is amazing. What a cool story. So let’s talk about the employer side. How does an employer become a partner? How does how do we get involved?

00:18:52 Kristin Maska
Yeah, just as easy come say something that’s really it is just talking about kind of what it is that your needs might be like, Candace said, it’s not a one-size-fits-all. Maybe you do just need some extra help for a couple months over the summer or maybe you are looking for a full blown apprentice. Just kind of chatting about what those needs might be is a great place to start reaching out to us, reaching out to the school district, whoever that person might feel most comfortable talking to. We can start there. We can sit down and we ask them what is it that we can do for you? We don’t say, well, let us give you an apprentice. We ask what works best in your office or your warehouse, how how might this look for you? How can we help this whole situation be successful? And then we also do employer outreach. So we have a couple of campaigns that we’re working on for the new year where we will target in the beginning like 3 industries. And then we’re just going to kind of send very targeted information to them about how this workforce programming. To help them in their needs and then we’ll kind of spread out from there and continue to do these campaigns. So that’s kind of where we’re going to start this year.

00:20:01 Candice Carnahan
And I think it’s a good time to also just remind anyone that’s listening is I cannot think about it. This is what we as a Chamber are here for. And so whether you’re picking up the phone and calling or walking through the door and saying these are the barriers that I’m having within my workforce, how can we find it? We also are out in the Community having all of these business to business conversations, listening for opportunities to say hey. I’m not sure if you’re aware we have this program that might help you. Let’s connect you with Kirsten. Let’s see what we can do to help find some solutions and so. When we say that we’re here to make sure that it’s a strong business climate and that we’re setting up our business community for success, these are the types of things that we’re talking about is we’re we’re really trying to make sure there are foundational pieces that are sustainable long term. Pieces that that give all of our business community the the tools to be successful because there’s enough challenges out there so anytime that we can help alleviate a barrier, make a connection. Find a potential for future, you know workforce partner. I think that that’s really important that we’re always that bellwether out there looking for these opportunities.

00:21:19 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah, I love that and it’s certainly appreciate that. Just a nuance question as far as partnering in on the youth workforce development, is this for any business, is this for Members is?

00:21:34 Kristin Maska
It’s for everybody. So of course we’re chamber, so we have Members, but we in general just the overall health of our business community is what’s important to us, whether they’re Members or not. You know, whether they’re Members here doesn’t mean that they don’t have employer or employee issues or workforce demands. So obviously we’d love for them to be members, but we help every business with anything that we can.

00:21:59 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Love it, love it. alright you two. As we close out? I’d love to land a final question to each one of you and just open it U. Whether it’s youth workforce development or anything personal or professional, what are we excited about as we open 2023 up? It’s now the 6th of January and I know this year will fly by, but what are we excited for? Where are we going?

00:22:26 Kristin Maska
I will say I’m personally excited for some kind of, I guess you could say overhauling of a website we manage to kind of make a hub for the Grand Valley hopefully by the end of the year. I’m really excited about some plans on how people can land on one landing page to find all this information that we do, talk to people about employers, teachers, students, whoever might find it useful. So that’s what I’m most excited about.

00:22:52 Matthew Kuehlhorn
That’s awesome.

00:22:55 Candice Carnahan
Yeah, absolutely. You know the resources and the opportunities out there right now for workforce development in general, but specifically work, youth based learning opportunities are really large. There’s a lot out there for us to take advantage of. We’re excited to connect those opportunities with our business community and at doing so it’s really going to continue to strengthen and grow the partnerships that we have within this Community and I I I think. It if I could say one last thing, it’s those strong partnerships and collaborations that allow us to have these unique solutions and be truly successful. And a lot of communities don’t have the ability to do that. They’re just for whatever reason. Agenda is different alignments. Whatever our community is so great at saying, here is an issue that we need to address. Let’s pull resources, let’s come together and work together collaboratively. And so we’re just excited to continue to expand on that and just. Always be that resource for the business community and their workforce needs.

00:24:03 Matthew Kuehlhorn
I really appreciate that and you may or may not know. My background before I started with garage doors was in a lot of youth and community coalition work. And what I’m hearing out of this conversation and what I see the Chamber doing is building what would be called like protective factors and they’re critical and I just applaud you. It is building and strengthening community and I would agree that. You know, our Grand Junction community has a lot of these protective factors in here and it is a collaborative piece and a partnership piece. So I thank you for your efforts and for the sharing the information. You know, we’ll get this out and as as cooler grows, we’ll definitely become a partner in youth force. And I just love working with youth in general. So I’m really excited about that and the opportunity. Candace, Kirsten, thank you so much. Appreciate you today.

00:25:00 Kristin Maska
Thank you.

00:25:02 Candice Carnahan
Thanks for the opportunity.