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Guest Column — Helen Young Hayes Talks Talent Pipeline Disruption

Why do employers still rely on a four-year degree as an indicator of job readiness? Especially in fields where technology rapidly changes, a majority of companies continue to screen candidates by requiring a university education. A computer science degree that includes humanities and general education credits is often required to prove one’s ability to do well in fields like cybersecurity. In fact, up-to-date and rigorous job skills training, technology bootcamps and apprenticeships are not only sufficient, but in many ways are superior.

As employers face critical IT worker shortages and cybersecurity threats become more ominous, employers in tech must embrace these alternative credentialing strategies to broaden their talent pipeline.

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But we need more than just ensuring employers can acquire talent quickly. Traditional hiring, which may overlook those without four-year computer science degrees, leaves out vast segments of our population. U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice recently remarked that there are 700,000 vacant cybersecurity jobs, but the current field is made up of less than 25% women, 9% black and 4% Hispanic workers. Fortunately, those numbers are the impetus for the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education and the Cybersecurity Workforce Framework that will help K-12 teachers introduce cyber curricula and resources. But the need is urgent. We must call upon private industry to also recognize the need for technical job preparation outside of a university setting. Or as Rice says, “create new pathways” for those who did not or cannot attend a university.

Importantly, providing a method for advanced technical job skills training for non-college students is a matter of economic equity. People deserve to achieve their fullest potential and pursue economic freedom even without the resources to attend a four-year university. In Colorado, 64% of top jobs require a post-secondary credential, yet only 28% of Blacks and 17% of Hispanics in Colorado attain a bachelor’s degree. According to the Colorado Talent Equity Agenda, Colorado ranks 37th in terms of racial disparities measuring how well the state puts households of color on a pathway to economic prosperity.

Consider a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on income disparity based on college attendance. Families that include at least one wage earner with a bachelor’s degree have nearly 8 times the wealth of families without a college graduate.

Ep Chart 001

If Americans can afford college degrees, they’re rewarded with a better job. But they’re not necessarily coming to those jobs with in-demand skills. According to a Harvard Business School survey, employers perceive that a college degree does not necessarily guarantee higher productivity or faster promotion rates in middle skills jobs. Companies need to hire for skill sets, not sheepskin, and widen access to employment in an equitable way. Job skills training and certifications must be promoted to the populations least likely to attend universities and embraced by the companies that will benefit from skilled technical talent.

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Companies need talent today. In the last decade, 9.8 million jobs were created, and due to new technology and retiring baby boomersthere are more than 35 million jobs waiting to be filled. According to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, only 36% of those job openings will be available to workers with less than a bachelor’s degree. Short-term credentialing, job skills training, and apprenticeship programs build desired skills and add to the existing talent pool inclusively and efficiently. Companies must embrace and implement programs and credentialing that screen in the skills they want, rather than screen out the workers they need.

In short, it’s time to rethink the education and hiring process so that every member of our society has the ability to learn and earn.


Helenhayes Hs Large

Helen is the founder and CEO of ActivateWork, a nonprofit recruiting, training and coaching firm that connects employers to a diverse pool of exceptional talent. 


Helen Young Hayes named CTA talent champion of the year

The Colorado Technology Association has named Helen Young Hayes its APEX Awards Talent Champion of the Year. Hayes, who founded Activate Workforce Solutions to create onramps to economic success, was recognized for supporting Colorado’s technology workforce.

In 2020, Helen launched ActivateIT Powered by Per Scholas, a tuition-free technology training and professional development program to create equitable paths in IT for individuals seeking careers and employers seeking talent. The program offers students the ability to earn industry- recognized credentials for in-demand technology roles with growth potential. Once placed into a full-time career, ActivateIT graduates receive one-on-one professional development coaching for six months. In its first five years, ActivateIT will provide training and post-placement coaching to 500 individuals.

“This award recognizes someone who builds and strengthens the technology talent pipeline by leading and supporting initiatives to construct and ensure a strong, diverse local pipeline of tech workers in the state,” said Frannie Matthews, President and CEO at Colorado Technology Association. “Helen is doing amazing things for the Colorado tech community and the work she is doing now will have lasting impacts on our industry far into the future.”

In addition to preparing individuals for IT careers with growth potential, ActivateIT also provides life skills coaching to enhance professional success. ActivateIT graduates are employed by leading companies like Denver Health, FirstBank and Arrow Electronics, becoming a reliable talent resource for in-demand roles. The average annual income of students entering the program is $15,000 and after placement, average annual incomes increase by over 160%.

“This isn’t just about helping our program participants gain a new skill, we really want to equip them with the tools they need to achieve economic mobility and realize their full potential,” said Hayes. “I’m thrilled that the CTA is honoring our efforts to create opportunity and prosperity for more Coloradans.”

This year’s APEX Awards are a week-long digital celebration of the leaders and companies elevating Colorado tech to new heights.

Since 2001, CTA has hosted this prestigious event to bring together the community and celebrate the exceptional people, companies and accomplishments of the year. In the tradition of years past, CTA recognized award winners who are leading the way for Colorado tech. Winners are selected by a panel of community judges.

Activate founder Helen Young Hayes appointed to new role

Activate Helen Young Hayes has been appointed to the Business Experiential-Learning Commission by Governor Jared Polis. Hayes will serve an initial term of two to three years.

Created by former Governor John Hickenlooper, the Commission’s vision is to integrate work-based learning opportunities into Colorado’s talent development network. Members include business leaders, policymakers and education experts.

The 16-member body is focused on several priorities, including: scaling in-school youth apprenticeship opportunities; addressing the state’s demographic equity gap and building educational assets for every worker.

A 20-year veteran of the financial industry, Hayes founded Activate in 2016 to help employers find and keep loyal and engaged employees, while connecting untapped talent with long-term career opportunities.

She previously served as portfolio manager of the Janus Worldwide and Overseas funds, building and investing a $50 billion franchise in global and international equities. Hayes was also the 2018 winner of the Denver Business Journal’s Outstanding Women in Business Mile High Leader Award.

This past summer Hayes launched the Colorado Inclusive Economy, a new movement aimed at rebuilding the state’s economy to work more effectively for all Coloradans. Employers who join the movement commit to hiring and advancing employees of color, developing more supportive workplace cultures and investing in workforce development to create a more diverse and skilled pipeline of talent.

“I’m proud to be working on the Commission and helping to expand economic opportunity for a wide range of residents,” said Hayes.