Denver businesses, schools meet on young people's future

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DENVER (AP) — MillerCoors, which still makes beer in the Colorado mountain town where the business was founded in the 19th century, expects hundreds of skilled employees in the state to retire in the next few years.

Concern it will have to look for replacements outside Colorado is one of the reasons a top MillerCoors executive spent Thursday morning with representatives from schools and other businesses at only the second gathering in the state, and the first here to focus primarily on job readiness, under the auspices of the America's Promise Alliance.

The alliance, launched in 1997 by President Bill Clinton and three of his predecessors amid concerns about high school dropout rates, is halfway through a series of 100 such meetings planned around the country. Bill Carpluk of America's Promise said meetings have focused on literacy struggles, middle school transition and poverty as barriers to completing high school. He said ensuring students see diplomas as a ticket to a career also is key to reaching his organization's goal of boosting the national on-time high school completion rate to 90 percent by 2020.

"Helping students build a link between what they're learning in high school and career opportunities keeps them motivated," said Carpluk, who helped organize the Denver meeting as well as events in Austin, Texas; Asheville, North Carolina; Phoenix and elsewhere.

School officials from Aurora, Cherry Creek, Denver, Englewood and Jefferson County were at Thursday's Denver meeting, hoping to forge partnerships with representatives from companies such as Anadarko Petroleum, AT&T, Comcast, Target and Kaiser Permanente.

Mile High United Way, which has strong ties to business, government and development leaders in metropolitan Denver, worked with America's Promise to organize the gathering, which was hosted at its headquarters in a central Denver neighborhood where it seemed like a new building was being constructed on every corner. But homeless shelters nearby were a reminder that many are being left out of Colorado's economic boom.

Denver School Board member Rosemary Rodriguez came to the meeting for ideas on ensuring young people in her largely poor and Hispanic southwest Denver neighborhood knew what opportunities were available and how to pursue them. A chance to intern at a company or be mentored by an executive can have a crucial effect on young people, she said.

"I want them to realize their education can create opportunities," Rodriguez said. "When you're young, you can have a tough time relating what's going on in your classroom to your future."

MillerCoors manager Gloria Schoch said her company, with 2,300 employees in Colorado, was working to create an internship program with the Denver district's Emily Griffith Technical College. In the past, Schoch said, such projects might have been seen simply a way for a company to build good relations with its customers and community. Now, it's a matter of self-interest, because growing numbers of baby boomers are retiring. For MillerCoors, that generational shift means losing glassmakers, electricians and other craftspeople with decades of experience. Schoch said her human resources managers tell her they are not getting applicants from Colorado with the right skills.

Bill Gilmore, who coordinates science, technology, engineering and math programs for Englewood Schools, came to the meeting with two of his students and an array of state-of-the-art technology they are learning to use. Englewood recently built a secondary campus that offers programs in areas where the economy is growing, including technical fields, hospitality and cosmetology.

So far, Gilmore has had only scattered success placing students as interns finding opportunities for them to shadow. He hoped that would change with the contacts he made Thursday, and that he would be able to begin long-term relationships to help him stay current with industry needs.

Gilmore, who worked for 17 years as an environmental geologist before switching to education, said he can tell students about what it takes to succeed at work, but that won't have the same effect as "seeing it firsthand in a real environment."

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