Closing the Skills Gap at Emily Griffith Technical College

If you think career and technical education (CTE) is just another term for the vocational programs of old, think again. At the Emily Griffith Technical College (EGTC) in Denver, the concept of vocational education is being turned on its head. The school, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, offers classes in subjects as varied as auto repair, nursing, computer networking, accounting, HVAC repair, and water quality management, just to name a few. Aimed at teaching both academics and technical skills to students from age 16 to 65, the school creates career pathways with permeability, applying aspects of the successful Swiss apprenticeship model to design a system with the on and off ramps necessary for students to succeed, no matter their stage in life.

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Defining New Spaces and Opportunities

Already Colorado’s largest public technical college – the institute serves approximately 7,500 students each year – EGTC opened a new, nearly 50,000 square foot, state-of-the-art skilled trades campus in August. Colorado Succeeds recently met with EGTC Executive Director Jeff Barratt to tour the new facility, which is located at 1205 Osage Street and houses the school’s College of Trades and Industry, as well as a number of non-credit continuing education programs.

Situated in an industrial area within walking distance of two RTD light rail stations, the newly renovated building is designed to accommodate and adapt to the changing needs of its students and the local business community, while also providing an outlet to learn “timeless trades” like carpentry and upholstery. The building features a wide variety of classroom spaces that speak to the diverse educational options available to the students at EGTC, from the MillerCoors Water Quality Lab to the Emily’s Alley auto repair training center.

In the Advanced Manufacturing Lab, instructor Chuck Sugent places an emphasis on providing a holistic, practical factory experience for students to learn from, including basic machinery principles and designing and modifying prototypes using computer-aided design (CAD) software and 3-D printers. In another learning lab, full-size commercial and residential HVAC units line the walls, providing the opportunity for hands-on electrical work that also is applicable in other industries.

Our goal is to give our students a skillset that is both hands-on and transferable.

Jeff Barratt, Emily Griffith Technical College

At EGTC, instructors inspire both in their words and in their actions. In the welding room, for example, students sit up and take notice when program director, Ryan Thomas, leads them through the intricacies of pipe welding and structural welding. After all, he just came back from a trip to Cape Canaveral where he was asked to train NASA welders in advanced welding processes. Alumni of EGTC often come back to provide guest lectures, giving students an inspirational glimpse at what the future can hold for them after graduation.

True Workforce Development

What is evident throughout the entire facility is that EGTC is workforce development in its truest sense. With a laser focus on job placement for its students, the school won’t even entertain the idea of adding a new program to the curriculum unless it can confirm that there is industry demand for it – and that no one else is already teaching it. The administration conducts extensive environmental scanning to ensure that there are jobs available for students after graduation and that there are no redundancies with other institutes’ programming. As Barratt shared, it was only after a conversation with leaders from Sage Hospitality and other health and hospital partners that the school decided to create a mock hotel room, hospital room, and bathroom to begin entry-level custodial training in an effort to provide legitimate footholds into the healthcare and hospitality industries.

It is clear that Emily Griffith is something of a poster child for what successful business and education partnerships can achieve. Thanks to the size and diversity of the relationships that EGTC has established with its more than 200 corporate partners, like Schomp Automotive, RK Mechanical, and MillerCoors, the school enables students to earn certifications and skills at a fraction of the cost of other institutions.

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But the focus of EGTC is not just on developing students’ specific, in-demand skills. The school also emphasizes the soft skills that many of today’s employers say entry level workers lack, such as critical thinking, communication, accountability, and conflict resolution. EGTC graduates students who are not only prepared for their new job from day one, but who also have a hunger instilled in them to grow and succeed further.

“Our goal is to give our students a skillset that is both hands-on and transferable. That way, when their employer asks them if they’d like to try something new, their answer is always yes,” says Barratt. “We make sure they’re comfortable in any environment.”

Expanding Career and Technical Education

With middle-skill jobs making up the largest portion of Colorado’s labor market, it is critical that more Coloradans receive education and/or training beyond high school. The variety of business partners and the diversity of the students who attend EGTC – in age, gender, ethnicity, and career stage – illustrate the upswell of support and demand for robust and rigorous career and technical education programs. Colorado Succeeds has a long history of helping to expand CTE in our state, beginning with our 2007 report, Engineering the Future. And we’re still working to support this model, which has been shown to help more students graduate from high school, enroll in a two-year college, be employed, and earn higher wages. In fact, HB16-1289, the Job Ready Students bill we’re leading, would incentivize school districts to help students earn industry credentials tied to in-demand jobs.

Shannon Nicholas

Chief of Staff
Colorado Succeeds