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Hickenlooper: The future holds challenges, opportunities for state leaders

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Phoenix, Ariz. – One of the greatest challenges as a leader is anticipating the consequences of decisions for future generations, says Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.

“Today’s world is such a different world than we had 25 years ago, and the rate of change for the next 25 years will be even more rapid,” Gov. Hickenlooper states.

Gov. Hickenlooper, Tim Hodges, Gallup Education Practice director of research, and Richard Fry, Pew Research Center senior researcher, looked at what the future might hold for U.S. in terms of education and the workforce.


According to Hodges, over the last 10 years, there has been a lot of time, attention and advancement in the areas of assessment and curriculum in education.

“The U.S. has made good advancements, but the country’s attention related to K-12 education seems to be changing,” Hodges states. “The attention is changing to what is called ‘whole child’ or ‘social emotional learning,’ which is an understanding that there’s more to education than how well a test goes.”

Student engagement, the idea that students are involved and enthusiastic about school, is one area Hodges’ team at Gallup has been researching.

The research found 50 percent of students in fifth through 12th grade are engaged in school, but student engagement declines from sixth to 10th grade.

“The decline in engagement is an educational system issue everyone needs to be aware of that needs addressed at the elementary school level in terms of parent involvement and parent engagement,” comments Hodges.

Many facets

Hodges notes the education system is comprised of multiple components, including great leadership, and one of the most important functions a school leader does is select talented teachers.

“School leaders need to hire talented teachers and keep them engaged,” Hodges says. “We have to create an engaging workplace where teachers learn and are involved and enthusiastic about their jobs, so they can engage students.”

For college students, Hodges mentions surveying hundreds of thousands of college alumni about their college experience.

“There’s really no difference whether a college graduate will be engaged or thrive in their life based on whether they went to a private or public college,” he states. “What really matters is how they go to college; the key experiences from adults on campus who cared and plugged them into career paths; and from successive curriculum that builds each semester.”

Hodges adds, managing student debt is also important because students with large amounts of debt are less likely to move out of their parents’ homes, buy their own homes, go back to graduate school or become entrepreneurs.

He also mentions the work force had changed over the last generation from a world that cares about the paycheck to where employees care about purpose and opportunities to learn, grow and develop.

Workforce challenges

To explore the challenges of the quantity and quality of labor, Fry discussed projections on the working age population, defined as 25- to 64-year-olds.

“In our 20-year projection from 2015-35, the working age population will grow by about 10 million,” Fry says. “The key, though, is, compared to the past 50 years, our growth projection is reduced.”

He explains, in the slowest decade for growth over the past 50 years, the working age population grew by 0.8 percent a year, and the next 20 years projects a growth of 0.3 percent a year.

“The current administration wants to set a goal of three percent annual job growth. It will be difficult to make a three percent growth rate on a continuous basis when the working age population is projected to only grow 0.3 percent a year,” Fry states.

In the 1980-90s, there was a lot of immigration into the U.S., but the working age population didn’t depend on immigration as much as it does now, according to Fry, adding zero percent immigration for the next 20 years would decrease the working age population.

As for the quality of the workforce, Fry and his colleagues looked at the social, analytical and physical skill requirements of U.S. jobs.

“The U.S. Department of Labor has a database that collects the characteristics of well over 900 occupations, so we looked at jobs requiring above average or high social, analytical and physical skills,” Fry says. “From 1980-2015, total employment grew by 50 percent, but jobs requiring high social and analytical skills doubled while physical skills need only increased a little.”

“The mix of jobs is changing in the U.S. towards jobs that require more skills, which is good because jobs requiring high social and analytical skills tend to have higher wages,” he adds, noting, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the trend to continue.

In the future, state officials will have to consider how to help students and workers get the skills they will need for the workforce and to benefit employers, according to Fry.

In conclusion, Gov. Hickenlopper says, “Looking at what is possible and the challenges we will face is a chance for leaders to think about actions that could be taken now to prepare for the future.”

The 2017 Western Governors’ Association Winter Meeting took place on Dec. 1-2, 2017 in Phoenix, Ariz.

Heather Loraas is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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