Jill Biden talks job training and educational opportunities at the Colorado state Capitol

Caitlyn Kim/CPR News
First Lady Jill Biden, left, and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, center, enter the Colorado state Capitol together on Monday, April 3, 2023.

First Lady Jill Biden was in Denver Monday to kick off a four-state swing to highlight her husband’s economic policies.

“I’m focusing on community colleges and jobs … We need to work together to help our students get the education and the training that they need for the careers they want,” she said. “And as technology changes — so many industries — these kinds of learning paths are more important than ever.”

Biden noted the administration is working to create millions of jobs in infrastructure, clean energy and manufacturing, pointing to bipartisan bills passed by the last Congress and signed into law, such as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the CHIPs Act, as well as a bill passed by Democrats, the Inflation Reduction Act.

“These positions pay well. And many of them require an associate degree, certificates, registered apprenticeships or other hands-on instruction. Not four years of college,” she said.

An educator, Biden focused on funding and policies found in the recent laws to expand workforce training programs and help community college students build the skills they need to pursue good-paying jobs.

“With your leadership, communities across this state will be able to find the critical workers they need for their schools, from your firehouses and construction,” she said. “With champions from both sides of the aisle, these programs are a great way to find common ground.”

Joining her to highlight workforce development was Colorado Gov. Jared Polis.

Polis said Colorado has two job openings for every unemployed person.

“We also need to make sure that the skills of those who are unemployed and looking for work can match the needs of the workforce so they can earn a living and work good jobs and our economy can thrive,” he said.

The governor said the state is leveraging federal funds to “really move the needle on workforce readiness.” 

He said the state used resources from the American Rescue Act, a COVID-era funding bill passed early in the Biden administration, to expand work-based learning opportunities and apprenticeships, start the Care Forward Colorado program to help people get health care related degrees, and beef up training programs so workers could advance.

Local lawmakers are now eyeing the CHIPs bill, in particular. GOP Rep. Matt Soper said that bill could be “worth $5.5 billion to technology companies in Colorado” and that the state is already behind others in the region seeking to take advantage of those federal dollars.

There’s a bipartisan proposal that would offer up to $15 million in state tax credits per year to attract semiconductor makers and other advanced manufacturers to Colorado.

Highlighting two bipartisan bills at the state Capitol

Polis and local legislators also talked to Biden about two bipartisan bills that would make workforce training more affordable, if not free. 

The first is the Support In-Demand Career Workforce bill, sponsored by Democrats Rep. Julie McCluskie and Sen. Janet Bucker, and Republicans Rep. Rose Pugliese and Sen. Perry Will. It would help pay for industry certificates, apprenticeship programs, and associate degrees in high-demand fields.

The other bill is the bipartisan Universal High School Scholarship Program, sponsored by Democrats state Sen. Jeff Bridges and state Rep. Matthew Martinez and Republicans state Sen. Paul Lundeen and state Rep. Don Wilson. It would provide high school students with a $1,500 scholarship to use at approved community colleges, apprenticeship programs and industry certification programs for in-demand careers.

Both bills were introduced last month and have yet to get their first hearings.

Lundeen stressed innovative policies and educational choice in his comments to Biden. He said the bills will help students pick a path different from the conventional four-year college option and, “many of these pieces of legislation also bring the opportunity for alternative providers to step in and say, ‘Hey, we can help an individual move forward with their education in a way that might not traditionally be expected, but is allowed for under these pieces of legislation.’”

Biden praised the bipartisan effort.

“I really appreciate the fact that you’re working together, both sides of the aisle, for the people you serve. And, you know, that’s the way it should be across America,” she sai.

Biden heads to Maine and Vermont later in the week. A stop in Michigan later Monday was postponed when Biden’s plane had an issue en route to the state and had to divert back to Colorado.

Editor’s Note: The story was updated to include quotes from Rep. Soper and the issue that developed with the First Lady’s plane.

CPR’s Andrew Kenny contributed reporting.