I-70 expansion officials promised to hire locally — that effort is now picking up steam

WorkNow, an initiative to fill construction positions in a tough market, is also trying to attract neighbors around I-70 to jobs on the expansion project.
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“Road Work Ahead,” seen on an onramp to I-70, Aug. 13, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Renovations to Interstate 70 began this month and are poised to continue for as long as five years. All that construction is going to take a lot of hands on deck, but the project's groundbreaking has come at a time when the industry as a whole is facing a worker shortage, so the state and the Colorado Department of Transportation have partnered with WorkNow, a collaborative agency that aims to provide training and resources to help workers land and keep jobs.

This week, WorkNow announced new participation numbers after their first ten months of operation. So far, more than 450 people have signed up for the program.

More people are taking advantage of these services than was expected, said Katrina Wert, a director at the Community College of Denver’s Center for Workforce Initiatives who helps run the project.

One of WorkNow's goals is to attract workers who live near the I-70 corridor to jobs on that project. Leaders in the construction industry have complained that employees living too far from their jobsites lose time to be part of their communities. And since the project has been controversial with people living nearby, this initiative has been held up as an olive branch to ensure some locals benefit from the transformation.

Homes in Elyria Swansea that were transferred to CDOT and boarded up as part of the I-70 expansion project, Aug. 13, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

So far, 114 of the people who've entered WorkNow hailed from the 5 zip codes closest to construction. That's nearly a quarter of all participants who live in areas along the highway from Globeville to Green Valley Ranch. WorkNow is targeting 16 zip codes in total for extra recruitment, and about half of all of their participants have come from those areas, which also include Five Points, Park Hill, neighborhoods around Federal Boulevard and around I-70 west of I-25.

"We feel great about that level of activity," Wert said.

It's not just new jobseekers who are taking advantage of the program. In addition to training newcomers to construction, WorkNow has also "upskilled" people who were already working in the industry and helped others find new jobs as they finished other projects. Most are not landing jobs on the I-70 renovation since that project has only just begun, but Wert said this early activity will work to "prime the pump" for jobseekers and employers to make connections as that effort adds new positions in the coming years.

Graduation night at Construction Careers Now, one of WorkNow's partners that trains workers construction jobs and is located beneath I-70 in Elyria Swansea. Dec. 14, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Whether or not their efforts are having an overall effect on the worker shortage, she said, is still hard to tell. More and more projects have begun construction in the last year, and despite efforts to fill those vacancies Wert thinks contractors are still feeling some pain.

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