Real plans for a vibrant, safe, affordable Denver:
Upskilling Denver: Building the Workforce We Need

Denver is brimming with opportunity. Our city is desperate for talent across numerous high-paying sectors. One estimate1 shows there are over 30,000 good-paying cybersecurity and IT jobs in the Denver region alone. Conservatively, the Denver region alone will need at least 12,000 new electricians,2 probably far more, to help rewire Colorado for renewables. We face acute talent shortages across the health care, skilled trades, and advanced manufacturing sectors. All of these sectors pay salaries that allow their workers to live and support a family in Denver on a single income.

In Denver, like the rest of our state, there are tens of thousands of good-paying jobs available. And yet, the problem is that across the Denver metro region, there are 250,000 households who earn too little to cover their core family economic needs, and over half these households have kids.  In Colorado and Denver, around half of all jobs are “middle skill” jobs, requiring more credentialing than a high school diploma, but less than a four year bachelor’s degree.3 And yet, 70% of Coloradans who earn a high school degree earn no postsecondary degree or credential within six years.4 Our higher education and workforce system is failing seven out of ten of our students, and contributing to this huge skills gap. We have to do better. 

I will make Denver the first city in America where any resident who wants to has the opportunity and the means to upskill into a good middle skill job with a good wage. Denver is brimming with opportunity, but we need a mayor with the commitment and vision to execute these plans.Here is my plan. As with every part of my policy platform, we know it works and we know how to pay for it.

The Plan

1. Upskill Denver. As Mayor, I will create a new upskilling Fund called Upskill Denver.  There is an acute need for opportunities in Denver to upskill into a good middle skill job with a good wage. As Mayor, I will partner with industry and philanthropy to build Upskill Denver, a workforce training platform that allows Denverites to get the training they need for the job that they want without going bankrupt in the process.  A Denver resident could get access to training in high demand, high wage jobs without paying a cent for that training program until they secure and hold a good-paying job.  A revolving loan fund supported by the city, employers and philanthropy pays the upfront costs of the training, and when they earn a family wage job, the cost of the training is shared between the employer, philanthropy and the employee, making sure there is no scenario where someone gets training but doesn’t get a job and still carries debt. Here’s how we’ll do it: 

  • Cost Share Effective Upskilling Models: One of the biggest barriers to receiving additional upskilling training is the cost. I propose that rather than the financial burden be fully placed on students, it’s split across all participating actors to ensure incentive alignment. That is, for a program that costs $10,000, the principal repayment should be split across the following actors:
    1. $3,000: Student Repayments5
    2. $5,000: Philanthropic Funding
    3. $5,000: Employer Retention Payments6
      • ActivateWork, a Denver-based training provider, has been very successful at launching and growing their employer pay-for-service model.7
  • Efficient and effective programs can upskill Denver learners in a matter of months, at a cost of $10,000 per learner. In my first term, I will unlock effective upskilling that leads to high quality middle skill jobs for at least 1,000 Denverites, at a cost of $10 million total over two years for Denver, which we’ll cover through a mix of Prosperity Denver Fund dollars, federal and state funds, and reallocated local workforce funding. The remaining costs we will cover from employer placement and retention payments, and from learners paying into a revolving Denver upskilling fund if (and only if) they directly benefit from job-training and secure a steady job with a livable wage. 
  • Leverage Prosperity Denver Fund: To pay for this, I’ll leverage Prosperity Denver Fund, funded through Denver sales tax revenue approved by Denver voters in 2018 (less than 1 cent per 10 dollars spent). Right now, Prosperity Denver Fund projects a surplus over the next decade of at least $100 million. We need to put that funding to work to support effective upskilling and reskilling pathways for Denverites.

2. Highlighting Programs with a Track Record of Success.

  • Scale training programs that work: As Mayor, I’ll make sure we actually have wage and employment outcome data available, at scale, on what workforce and job-training programs lead to good-paying jobs. Across dozens of public sector training programs, we spend far too much on training programs that don’t lead to good jobs. I’ll retool that system, putting a premium on programs that place Denverites in good-paying jobs and direct public dollars to scale up those models.
  • Scale effective wrap-around workforce models that work: I’ll scale up evidence-based wrap-around supports for lower-income and first generation students pursuing degrees to increase completion rates, and then I’ll scale up evidence-based career coaching and employer partnerships to make sure Denverites earning postsecondary degrees and credentials at every level have historic opportunities. 

3. Launch Denver. In addition to making Denver the best place for workers to receive the training they need, I will work to make Denver the best place to start a new business with our Launch Denver initiative. Denver has the potential to be the best place for small BIPOC businesses to flourish, but we need to focus on creating effective channels to increase access between investors and businesses.

  • I’ll help entrepreneurs of color by convening co-investors that are focused on growing the Denver business scene. By working with local community leaders, we’ll recruit owners to join us for an ‘open-casting’ where small businesses, with a focus on BIPOC businesses, can pitch their business models to prospective investors. The goal of these convenings is regularly scheduled meetings to help increase connectivity between funding sources and local business. With a renewed focus on helping small business flourish, we can help prioritize reviving the central arteries of Denver such as Broadway and 16th Street with locally-led businesses. 
  • As Mayor, I will streamline the process for burgeoning small businesses to access these dollars and bring new businesses to Denver. Building off the Denver International Airport’s commitment to creating more contracting opportunities for historically underutilized businesses, my administration will work to improve public contracting practices citywide to increase the number, size, and scope of contracts going to minority and women-owned businesses.
  • Additionally, three recent pieces of federal legislation—the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), and the CHIPS and Science Act—are projected to create millions of new jobs across the nation over the next decade in construction, transportation, manufacturing, broadband, clean energy, water, and more. We will work with employers in these industries to make sure that a branch of Upskill Denver focuses on getting them the talent they need.

4. Denver Cares. By using the branch of Upskill Denver that is focused on training childcare educator roles, I’ll pilot a flagship new initiative to train at least 100 Denverites into these roles, addressing our severe early child workforce shortage, and I’ll tap federal and state dollars to help pay our early child workforce a decent wage. This, in turn, will help more parents of young Denver kids enter or reenter the workforce. In tandem, I will simultaneously make Denver the best place to work and raise kids by providing funding for businesses downtown to open up childcare facilities. I will also work with and audit existing regulatory bodies to streamline the process to open childcare facilities. In addition, to create more childcare options, I will work alongside the United Way to help retrofit abandoned properties to serve as a site for childcare support across the city.

The Budget

Capital to help offset training
costs to for 1,000 students
$10 Million$5 million from employers;
$5 million from philanthropy
1,000 childcare centers
across the City of Denver
$10 Million$10 million from philanthropy


  1. See https://www.denverpost.com/2021/05/21/colorado-high-tech-jobs-cybersecurity-coding/.
  2. See https://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/electricians.htm#tab-1
  3. See https://nationalskillscoalition.org/news/press-releases/new-national-skills-coalition-analysis-middle-skill-gap-means-colorado-employers-struggle-to-fill-key-jobs/
  4. See https://www.cpr.org/2022/10/04/colorado-technology-jobs-certificates-apprenticeships/
  5. Repayments made only if student is placed into job after training that provides a living wage. If the student is neither placed into a job or does not make a living wage, they do not have to pay the principal back.
  6. The premium on employer payments helps offset any Funding lost because of a student not getting placed into a job, and consequently not paying for their 1/3 of the training. Additionally, by offering participating employers the ability to interview candidates first from best in class providers, employers save on internal training costs and, potentially, employer turnover costs.
  7. See https://www.activatework.org/homepage/faq-employers/

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