June 7, 2017 Updated: June 7, 2017 at 10:06 pm
Lisa Rice is returning to Colorado Springs at a good time.
As the new executive director of the Pikes Peak Workforce Center, she takes over the position during a period of record-low unemployment.
Yet, as the head of a federally funded agency that works with area residents and businesses, Rice still has plans to tackle the region’s workforce needs – finding jobs for veterans, introducing millennials into the workforce and getting those who’ve been unemployed back into the labor pool.
Rice, a Colorado Springs native, started in her new position this week after working nearly 15 years as an executive with a comparable workforce agency in Florida.
She has a bachelor’s degree in human resources and marketing from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, a master’s in business administration from the University of Nebraska and a master’s in public administration from the University of Central Florida.
The Workforce Center serves El Paso and Teller counties and connects businesses with job seekers – providing résumé assistance, interview preparation and computer training, among other services.
The Gazette spoke with Rice about her new job:
Question: What is the biggest challenge facing the Workforce Center and how do you plan to overcome it?
Answer: Meeting the employers’ needs in the region. We know there are 5,000 jobs open right now in both El Paso and Teller counties. Our challenge is trying to get the right talent for the business. One of the ways we want to tackle that is encouraging those who are working multiple jobs – when they could just be working one – to try to upgrade their skills to a higher level so they can have one job.
Q: In light of local record-low unemployment, there are more job openings than workers to fill them. How do you plan to address this issue?
A: It’s a tough nut to crack. We can’t do it alone and it has to be a community effort, which I call the trifecta: education, employers and economic development. We need to draw talent here, as well as grow our talent pipeline locally right out of high school. The hard part we face is the problem with our wages. You can drive to Denver and be paid more there. We need to get all three working together with us to try to make changes or we’re going to continue to have a talent shortage.
Q: Do you have any plans to provide work for veterans or soldiers getting ready to transition into the civilian sector?
A: Absolutely. We are heavily vested in our veterans transitioning out or retiring veterans coming to this area. We have a military services specialist working with military coming out, their spouses and family members. We’re not looking at it from just the person in the military. We want to take a holistic view here and ask if the whole family is able to be employed in the community.
Q: What are some of your short-term goals as the new executive director?
A: One of the things I’m looking forward to is getting out into the community and meeting businesses and finding out what they need. I grew up here and I’ve been away for a while so it’s a time of me listening and learning more about where we need to be going.
Q: What is your biggest long-term goal as executive director?
A: It really is to increase the talent coming here to Colorado Springs and fill those business needs.
Q: Our labor force participation rate is at the lowest point in decades, mostly due to millennials. How do you plan to get them into the workforce?
A: One of the biggest things I’ve been seeing is free-agent type of work, meaning, “I need someone who can do graphic design for the next three months,” and then they’re done three months later. We should look at more part-time position opportunities and almost go back to the old-school days of job sharing.
Q: How do you plan to get people who have left the labor force back in?
A: One of the things I’ve done in the past is you kind of have to attract them back and say, “there are still opportunities for you.” On-the-job training is a subsidized training program we can and want to do with businesses. The employer says, “I need them to learn A, B, C, and it’ll take X amount of hours” and we pay 50 percent of their wages. They become very loyal throughout those types of activities and can reach full-time employment.
Questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.