September 15th, 2023

Colorado Job Market: Workforce Trends to Watch for in 2024

The Colorado job market poses competitive opportunities and challenges for employers and job seekers alike. Unemployment in Colorado dropped to 2.9% as of July 2023. This is below the national average unemployment rate of 3.5%. Overall, Colorado’s unemployment rate has remained below 3.0% for fifteen consistent months, returning to pre-pandemic numbers. Not surprising since the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) reported early last year that the state’s employment recovery was outpacing the recovery across the U.S.

The CDLE also projects more than 300,000 jobs will be added in the Denver metro area alone through 2030.

The problem is that there aren’t enough Coloradians to fill these jobs. Wallet Hub rates the Denver area (77.21 points) as the #2 “U.S. city with big inflation problems”, right behind #1 Miami, Florida (96.43 points). While some of the best corporations call this region home, it is much harder to convince people to move there with the cost of living expenses so high.

Colorado businesses can improve their business outlook by getting strategic about their workforce.

Determining the skills employees need today and in the future, having a recruiting and hiring plan in place, and staying sharp on employment factors specific to their industry are a few ways Colorado business leaders can take advantage of the current job market. But part of this due diligence is to also understand the workforce trends that are happening across Colorado and what the impact of those trends might be.

Here’s a look at some of the critical workforce trends in Colorado and what they could mean for you as a small business leader, so you can respond effectively and stay competitive.

Industry Growth In Colorado

There are a number of industries in Colorado that are not only rapidly growing, but truly leading the state employment.

Industries with longterm, stable growth

Tech, tourism, and energy, for example, have long been in the spotlight in Colorado and don’t show any signs of fading. There are already more than 248,000 people employed in tech-related jobs across the state, with tech employment accounting for 8.3% of the total workforce in Colorado and projected to increase by 22% between now and 2032. Increases in crude oil, natural gas, and renewable energy production continue to create employment opportunities in Colorado’s energy sector. On the other hand, a record number of tourists visiting the state in recent years has kept the tourism industry alive and well.

Other Colorado industries that are particularly representative of the local economy, like cannabis and craft beer, are flourishing. Colorado was the first to legalize cannabis — an industry that earned nearly $10 billion in sales last year — and is considered one of the top craft beer cities in the U.S. These industries draw passionate purveyors, workers, and consumers from around the state — and across the country.

Up and coming growing industries in Colorado

But it’s the recent growth in industries like retail, healthcare and social assistance, and food services that will lead to the biggest job gains in Colorado. Approximately, 11% of the state’s workforce is in the healthcare sector. According to the CDLE, this is a trend that started back in 2020 and is projected to continue through 2030.

Growth in any one of these industries has the potential to attract workers away from other sectors and businesses, especially if job openings are accompanied by good wages, benefits, and more flexibility. As workers continue to re-evaluate their careers and make changes, there’s less of a guarantee that any one industry or business will be able to maintain the necessary employment levels. This creates some urgency for small business leaders to develop a hiring plan and HR strategy that can help them attract the workers they need and retain the workers they have.

The Tech Startup Reality

Within Colorado’s job market, the tech startup community is booming. Close to $7 billion in private investment was given to Colorado’s fastest-growing startups in 2021 — a year that also saw 1,100 new tech businesses in Colorado.

One of the biggest attractions for starting a tech business here, outside of the high quality of life, is that the cost of doing business in Colorado — including the cost of labor, office rents, and taxes — is still comparatively lower than in California or New York. But those costs are on the rise and could eventually change the picture for startup founders interested in moving here.

The universal struggle of employee turnover

One problem that’s true of any startup, no matter where it’s located, is the high rate of employee turnover. Especially among hyper-growth startups, one in four employees leaves their job after a year. The imperative for startups is to grow, which means they have to hire quickly and in volume to meet their growth goals. But with so much attrition, hiring and retaining talent is an ongoing challenge for the startup community. And it’s especially hard for human resources leaders, who are under constant pressure to expand the workforce while working with limited budgets.

Employee retention is ultimately dependent on many different factors: compensation, benefits, cost of living, flexibility, and more. Small business leaders in Colorado, especially tech startups, will be challenged to prioritize employee needs and retention strategies alongside growth and funding goals. Striking a balance will be key in this current tight labor market and in a sector where such a notoriously high turnover has yet to be solved.

Roles & Skills In High Demand

Turning to the workforce itself, there are certain roles that are routinely needed among Colorado businesses. Many of the most in-demand roles are in healthcare and social assistance, tech, energy, and retail — providing some evidence that these industries are indeed expanding. But businesses in these industries also struggle to find enough workers to fill the roles or can’t keep the roles filled for long.

Based on data in the CDLE’s Labor Market Information database, the roles that are most in-demand as of September 2023 for Colorado, include registered fast food and counter workers, followed by retail salespeople, cashiers, stockers and order filers, and waitstaff. In the Denver, Boulder, and Colorado Springs areas specifically, occupations in technology, health care, and retail were the most advertised during the same time period.

The search for soft skills and “upskilling”

Throughout Colorado, basic skills — sometimes referred to as soft skills — like customer service, problem-solving, attention to detail, the ability to be flexible, and interpersonal skills, are highly desired by employers; In fact, those skills just mentioned were the ones listed the most in job descriptions in September 2023, according to the same CDLE database. One reason could be that as more day-to-day tasks get turned over to AI and automation, those soft skills become critical.

It is notable that more job openings in Colorado are also requiring specific software application experience, such as Microsoft Office, Microsoft PowerPoint, and Python. Much of this has to do with the increasing number of jobs that are remote or tech-related, coupled with an increase in data visualization.

One issue businesses struggle with is finding employees with updated skills. The fast-changing tech industry in particular constantly requires upskilling. And there are now collaborative partnerships in the state, such as the one between the University of Denver and Technology Employment Colorado, that are offering tech-skill boot camps to help grow Colorado’s technical talent, especially in the areas of coding, data analytics, and cybersecurity. Metropolitan State University in Denver has also updated its programs to reflect the needs of Colorado employers, with resources designed to align graduate skills with area industries.

Are more robust training and skills programs necessary?

Small businesses that are having a tough time filling roles and finding employees who have the required skills could continue to struggle as there simply may not be enough skilled workers available. To make up for the skills deficit, your business may want to invest in more robust training and skills development programs — both for existing employees and new hires. Upskilling employees can help businesses keep a competitive edge, especially in the tech industry, as well as respond and adapt more easily to crises and changes in the labor force.

Colorado Job Market FAQs

While there are some challenges to overcome in Colorado’s job market, there are also many opportunities. Economic and job growth exceed the national average and the central location continues to attract businesses and candidates alike. Colorado residents support that the state’s natural beauty and business-friendly environment make for ideal conditions. Here are some common questions and answers about the job market in Colorado.

How is the job market in Colorado?

Overall, the number of job openings as of September 2023 is close to 90,000, which indicates a healthy outlook for Colorado’s job market. The state’s unemployment rate is well below the U.S. national average, which could make it difficult for employers to source local candidates.

What jobs are in demand in Colorado?

There are a wide range of jobs spread across STEM industries as well as retail, health care, and food production. Jobs that are most in demand include service-based jobs in hospitality, retail, tourism, and sales. The perfect job may also be found in health care, technology, and food production. There is also a strong market for cannabis and craft beer manufacturers.

Is it hard to get a job in Colorado?

Based on the below-national average unemployment numbers, it’s relatively easy to get a job in Colorado. The Talent Pipeline Report, released by CWDC, advised that there are, “two jobs for every one job seeker” in Colorado. That increases the odds that employers in the Denver area and other cities are eagerly looking for talent. Job seekers also have more room to negotiate for larger salaries and remote working arrangements if they do not wish to live locally.

Does Colorado have good job opportunities?

It can be said that there are many good career opportunities in Colorado for this and next year. With nearly 90,000 advertised employment listings already identified, it can be an opportune time for applicants to explore Colorado businesses. These are jobs spread out across the largest cities, giving job seekers a chance to select the right organizations to reach their career goals. Many jobs are offered with flexible schedules, above-average wages, and within exciting industries.

What Colorado Business Leaders Can Do Today

Managing your workforce needs is just one of the many responsibilities Colorado business leaders like you have on their plate. Obsidian HR is locally based here in Colorado and available to support your benefits, talent management, and training efforts and relieve much of the burden you may feel. We can help you navigate the unique workforce trends in our state that will have the most impact on your business, so you can move forward with confidence.

To learn more about our services and get started, contact one of our team members today. To help you deal with one of the other top challenges of being a small business owner in Colorado — download our guide on Colorado’s employment laws and regulations.

Download Our Guide: 2023 Colorado Employment Laws & Regulations

Last year, many new Colorado laws and regulations were signed into effect—this year employers can expect more. Learn about the major laws and regulations impacting your Colorado business in this guide.

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