In May, Gov. Jared Polis signed a bipartisan bill into law funding full-day kindergarten for Coloradan kids starting this fall — a transformational investment in our state’s future.
When I heard the news, I naturally thought of how I felt when my daughter, Addison, reached kindergarten age. I learned that even though she was going to go to a public elementary school, only a partial day of kindergarten would be covered. I would be responsible for the remaining costs, which were high.
As a single working mom, I was shocked that the system didn’t provide more assistance for parents and their children.
I thought about how parents with low incomes, a lack of access to transportation, and/or little family support experience additional stress when faced with this reality: you can either pay the expensive tuition, pay even more for child care, or you can forfeit the money you would have made in a year by cutting your hours at work or even leaving your job to stay home with your young child.
Thankfully, Colorado parents no longer have to make this decision. In addition to providing all Colorado kids with a better education, Polis’ emphasis on full-day kindergarten will give parents the ability to reenter the workforce earlier, an economic boon for those parents and for the state as a whole.
It’s not just about helping parents earn more and save more, which will mean more economic activity and more economic growth — it’s about warding off a pernicious “skills gap” that can hold parents of young children back in the workplace.
In today’s economy, people change jobs much more often than they did in the past, which means that workers’ skill sets are becoming more and more important than company seniority, years of experience, past titles or even degrees.
And the increasingly rapid changes in technology requires workers to be up-to-date on skills so they can keep up with the changing nature of work.
As the Executive Director of Skillful, an initiative of the Markle Foundation, we work to transition the labor market to one in which skills are valued above all else, where people are seen for the skills they have and the skills they can learn.
The sooner working parents can return to the workforce, the more likely they are to retain and develop new skills to meet the demands of the modern economy.
Furthermore, parents are one population of workers that’s often overlooked and whose skill sets aren’t fully recognized for the value they bring to employers.
Childrearing requires parents to learn and hone important foundational skills like time management, event planning, logistics and budgeting, making them powerful assets to work teams. But these skills aren’t always recognized as assets by hiring managers, who might see a long gap on a resume and decide to hire another applicant instead.
My hope for these is that they are seen for the skills they have and the skills they can learn, not the gap in their resume.
Parents who are looking for a little help in re-entering the workforce can also access free career-coaching assistance at their local workforce center. We’ve seen the power of a skills-based approach in helping job seekers land that next opportunity through the Skillful Governor’s Coaching Corps and its complementary online platform, the Skillful Coaching Community of Practice.
In our work with thousands of employers, we’ve found that when companies focus on skill-based hiring, they are more likely to find an employee who will flourish in a given role. They open up their talent pool to candidates who may otherwise be overlooked, improving diversity, and increasing employee retention.
By focusing on developing skills and giving parents of young children the freedom and flexibility to return to work sooner, we have the power to keep Colorado’s economy on its upward trajectory while giving our kids a better education.
This column was originally published for The Colorado Sun. The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported news organization that covers people, places and issues of statewide interest. To sign up for free newsletters, subscribe or learn more, visit ColoradoSun.com.
Shannon Block is executive director of Skillful Colorado. She previously served as CEO of the Denver Zoo, Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers and World Forward Foundation.