Diversity in the Boulder County Workforce
Georgina Chacon, 25, is a rising star at her workplace, the ARC thrift store in Louisville. Four years ago, Georgina started her career at the ARC as a cashier. In a short time period she moved up the ladder to become a night manager, and two years later, Georgina was appointed assistant manager. She reminds me that, like many Hispanics in Boulder County, her journey to become a success story was not an easy one.
“I was born in Chihuahua, Mexico and I was six years old when I came to Denver with my family. I went to elementary school, high school, and I then graduated from Emily Griffith Technical College,” said Chacon.
“I believe there are a lot of stereotypes associated with being a Latina. People think we are not hard working and that we are all illegal. Before I came to the ARC I did a lot of cleaning jobs. When you are interviewed and you tell people you did cleaning jobs, they look down on you. It took me a long time to find more professional work.”
Georgina is the face of Boulder County’s increasingly diverse workforce. According to the U.S. census (2017), currently there are 174, 661 jobs held in Boulder County. This total includes workers who commute into Boulder County from the county’s surrounding communities. Of the total number of jobs held, Hispanics hold 12.5% of these jobs, African Americans 1.9% and Asians hold 4.8% of the total jobs. With Boulder County’s tight labor market, initiatives to educate and build the professional skills of minorities will be crucial in order to fill jobs while improving the economic security of the county’s diverse racial and ethnic groups.
Overall Trends of the Workforce in Boulder
According to the state demography office, Boulder County’s population is projected to increase, with a forecast to reach 332,134 by 2020 and 403,077 by 2040. The County has an aging population, which is one of the main reasons why the current labor market is so tight. Projections are that approximately 1one million,000,000 workers are expected to age out of Colorado’s workforce between 2015 and 2030. As a result, there will be an increase in the need for caregivers. Unemployment in Boulder County is very low, with the number of jobs outweighing the supply of skilled workers. Baby boomers comprise 37% of the workforce. The majority of jobs in Boulder County are white collar, professional jobs in the following sectors: technical services, government jobs, health care, retail and manufacturing positions.
Hispanics in the Workforce
Hispanics are the fastest growing minority group in Colorado. According to Elizabeth Garner of the sState dDemography office, of the total number of Hispanics in Colorado, 74% percent are from Mexico, with the remaining coming from different countries in Central and South America.
Cindy DeGroen of the State Demography’s office tells me: “From 2015- 2020, 67% or nearly 7 out of every 10 entrants to the workforce in Colorado will be Hispanic.”
This is due to the high number of young Hispanics. For example, iIn Boulder County, it is estimated that more than 50% of Hispanics are younger than 25. This means that Hispanics are, and will be, an integral part of Boulder County’s workforce.
Table of Hispanics in Workforce
As you can see from the table, the majority of Hispanics in Boulder County hold blue collar jobs. Most of them work in the agricultural sector, followed by administration/secretarial, construction, accommodation and food, transportation and warehousing, retail, manufacturing, and health care.
To date, there is no data on the percentage of Hispanics who are undocumented or who work in informal jobs in the city of Boulder and its nearby vicinities.
Given that the majority of jobs in Boulder County are white collar, there are numerous opportunities for educated Hispanics to move into more professional positions.
Juan Sierra, from Puerto Rico, credits his medical education from Mexico for providing him with the opportunity to work at his current professional position—nutrition mentor and medical assistant for a weight loss program based in Louisville. In tandem, he is studying for his board exams to become certified as a doctor in the United States.
“One of the main challenges I face is that I am trying to sustain a family while working hard to pass the board exams. Also, it is expensive. A board exam is around $1,000 dollars. I don’t receive any financial support from my family in Puerto Rico. I’m looking forward to passing my board exams so that I can have a better future,” said Sierra.
Asians in the Workforce
Boulder County is home to a diverse group of Asians, including Chinese, Indians, Laotians, Cambodians, Vietnamese, and Nepalese.
Tony Oum, a prominent leader of the Asian American community in Colorado, is quick to point out that not all Asian Americans have high flying, professional jobs. This is a common stereotype of the Asian American community.
“The biggest misconception is that Asians are the model minority and that all Asians are successful. But, this is not true…there are people in the Cambodian community, Vietnamese community, and Chinese community who live in poverty in the Boulder and Denver area,” said Oum.
Many of the less educated Asians work in assembly plants in and surrounding Boulder County. For example, the assembly plant of Medtronic (a global company that sells medical technologies) provides jobs to many Asians. Another company which employs many Asians is the U.S. Post Office.
Asians who are more highly educated tend to work as researchers or professors at the University of Colorado in Boulder. They also work for technology companies. Many are employed as engineers and financial analysts for Medtronic. Finally, a large proportion of Indians work in a variety of technical positions for Seagate Technology, a data storage company in Longmont that makes computer hard drives.
If anyone exemplifies the model minority it is Tony Oum. The son of Cambodian refugees who fled civil war and conflict, his parents came to the United States with nothing. Eventually, they started a Chinese restaurant, which prospered. They were able to provide Tony with the financial support he needed to graduate from college with an accounting degree from the University of Colorado in Boulder. His first job was with First Bank, where he started out as a management trainee. Today, 11eleven years later, Tony is the Senior Vice President at First Bank, where he oversees the bank’s diversity efforts.
“I oversee the Bank’s multicultural bank initiative. A lot of minorities do not understand the American banking system. We strive to address the language barriers our clients face. Also, our clients feel comfortable banking with us because someone understands their culture,”
In our conversation, it is clear that Tony is very passionate about his work. “People ask me why I am so passionate about my work. I tell them that my parents came here with nothing and they were able to build the American dream.”
Educational Programs for the Hispanic Community in Boulder County
According to the 2017 Community Foundation Boulder County Trends Report, Boulder is home to one of the state’s largest achievement gaps between Hispanics and Anglos. Currently, Hispanics are the largest minority in Boulder County and they have lower levels of education. Also, they are more likely to live in poverty. The Trends Report finds that many Hispanics in Boulder County struggle to earn their high school diplomas and they are far less likely than their peers to enroll in college. Estimates are that 45% of Hispanics in Boulder County have graduated from college in comparison to 87% of Anglos.
In order to address the manifold challenges the Hispanic community faces when it comes to achieving educational goals, Boulder is home to some very innovative education programs.
One such program is the El Paso program in Boulder County, which stands for “Engaged Latino Parents Advancing Student Outcomes.” In the words of Teresa Garcia, who founded El Paso alongside her husband Richard Garcia, “El Paso was formed within the Community Foundation because they were very interested in the education of every single person in the county. They did a study which resulted in a report. They realized that many Hispanic children did not attend pre-school, which means they were left behind academically.”
The Community Foundation launched the El Paso program in 2014 in consultation with hundreds of Hispanic parents. In 2017, El Paso was established as an official non-profit organization, run by Teresa and Richard Garcia, with the aim to “to raise awareness of the importance of early childhood education while at the same time emphasizing the value of Latino parent leadership in the community.”
The program works to educate Hispanic parents in Boulder, Lafayette, and Longmont about the education achievement gap between Anglos and Hispanics. Parents who are interested in playing a more active role in their child’s schooling are provided with education about the importance of early childhood education.
“As part of the program, each day, in Lafayette, Longmont, and Boulder, our school readiness coordinators knock on the doors of low income Hispanic families with the aim to educate parents about the value of early education and childhood development,” said Garcia.
As a result, the El Paso program has reached more than 3,000 Hispanic families in its first three years.
CAMP- College Assistance Migrant Program
Another innovative education program is CAMP (College Assistance Migrant Program). Roberto Garcia heads the CAMP initiative, which is a federally funded program of the U.S. Department of Education working to provide higher education opportunities to Hispanic migrants and seasonal farm workers. The program began in the 1990’s and was first implemented at CU Boulder.
“We were awarded a federal grant from 1990 to 1994. We then had a dry spell. But, from 2001 onwards, the program has consistently received funding,” said Garcia.
Participants receive financial assistance for college, for the 4- year period. They can choose whatever course of study that they would like to pursue. The majority of students pursue liberal arts education. Students also pursue more technical schooling, such as welding and automotive technician education.
“We get over 100 applications in a year. Last year we received 190 applications. We can only accept 35 students.”
While the program is currently based at AIMS Community College, which has locations in Greeley, Windsor, Fort Lupton, and Loveland, graduates of CAMP now work in professional positions in Boulder County.
“As a result of CAMP, we have lawyers, doctors, and teachers out there. Our graduates are very successful at finding professional careers. In terms of graduation rates, over 62% of our students graduate,” said Garcia.
The TILDE project, which stands for Teachers Improving Learning in Dual Education, was formed as a fully funded scholarship for bilingual teachers so that they can get their masters’ degree in education, equity, and cultural diversity through the University of Colorado, Boulder.
TILDE is financed by the Office of English Language and Acquisition of the U.S. Department of Education. Graduates of the program will earn an MA degree in educational equity and cultural diversity.
According to the director of TILDE, Sandra Butvilofsky, “The aim of the program is to help teachers’ better serve bilingual children in the Denver public schools. The program has been running for three years now.”
Applicants who are selected will receive full funding to pay all tuition costs. “Of the most recent cohort, of the 25 students, 23 are Latina,” added Butvilofsky.
Professional Skills Building
In addition to educational opportunities, professional skills building initiatives can provide support to minorities who wish to transition from blue collar to white collar jobs. Workforce Boulder County, an initiative funded, in part, by the Colorado Department of Labor and Education, provides job seekers in the Boulder County area with a number of career services. According to its website, the mission of Workforce Boulder is “to drive employment and education opportunities that enrich individual growth, and community connection.”
The services provided by Workforce Boulder County range from teaching participants how to write a resume, and providing interviewing assistance, to workshops on networking, financial management and computer skills. In addition, Workforce coordinates an internship program where participants have the opportunity to gain skills, knowledge and experience by working for local companies or city government agencies in Boulder County.
Erin Jones, executive director of Workforce Boulder County, estimates that out of the 8,000 people per year who use the services at Workforce, approximately 16-20% of participants are Hispanics.
“Given that there are so many Hispanics who use Workforce services, a large portion of our staff are bilingual in English and Spanish. Language should not be a barrier for Hispanics who use Workforce Boulder services…. we try to make sure people feel welcome, no matter what language they speak,” said Jones.
Challenges and Recommendations
Minorities often lack family financial support, which can be a significant barrier for them to pursue their educational goals. Opportunities in education can offer minorities the keys for future professional success.
“When it comes to succeeding in white collar jobs, a major barrier for minorities is the high cost of going to school. The cost of school has been increasing every year. It is a major barrier, particularly if you are a new immigrant and you want to succeed, but college tuition is so high. If you want to get a scholarship but you can’t- it is a major barrier,” said Tony Oum.
As Juan Sierra has pointed out above, the high cost of the board exams required to become a certified physician is a significant barrier for any minority who wishes to become a doctor.
Thus, scholarships are needed so that minorities can pursue their educational goals in order to reach their career dreams.
Other barriers mentioned include language, the lack of financial literacy training, and the fact that many minority groups are disconnected.
“Currently, the Hispanic community is fractured and everyone is all over the place. If all the Hispanics would work together, get on the same page, and say ‘this is what we want and need,’ then we would be able to support our community,” said Chacon.
Tony Oum added: “The biggest problem that we have as an Asian community is that we are fractured. We have the Chinese community in one corner, the Vietnamese community in one corner, and the Indians in one corner. If we could all get together and work together and create an alliance,—I think we could accomplish some great things.”
While my interviewees conclude that a lack of family and government financial support presents a significant barrier to achieving their goals, they have not let this obstacle stop them from pursuing their dreams.
My sense was that they, and most likely the majority of minorities, are full of dreams. They have dreams for a more economically secure future, dreams for their children and for their grandchildren., and more. Tony Oum, Juan Sierra, and Georgina Chacon have learned that hard work, perseverance, and discipline are the keys to success.