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What’s Working: Guild Education’s latest $150 million round means more Colorado jobs

The Denver company plans to add 350 workers by year’s end as it helps clients like Walmart, Chipotle and Disney change jobs to careers. Plus: Colorado’s job economy, unemployment backpay, who’s hiring and more.

  • Credibility:

One of the fastest growing technology companies in Denver just got another burst of funding of $150 million in venture capital this week. Guild Education, which helps large employers offer education as an employee perk, will use the money to double its size.

What that really means is more jobs, said Rachel Carlson, Guild’s co-founder and CEO.

And it’s not just another hiring frenzy for the company — which employs 937 people and plans to get to 1,300 employees by the end of the year (it’s hiring) — but also improving opportunities for service workers everywhere who feel stuck in a dead-end job. 

This has become the mantra for some folks during the pandemic as federal unemployment benefits give lower-wage workers a chance to explore new opportunities. That won’t resolve the ongoing labor crisis of employers desperately seeking seasonal help. But what Carlson is trying to do with Guild is change jobs into careers.

Rachel Romer Carlson, CEO and co-founder of Guild Education, meets with with Terrence Cummings, vice president for Client Success, and Nancy Holum, director of Client Success, for a team check-in brainstorming session from Guild’s downtown Denver offices on November 30, 2018. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)

“The conversation, mostly because it’s been driven by national policy, is about the $15 minimum wage. We forget to talk about what’s the next step on the staircase, and I actually think step two is the most important,” she said. “Which companies actually have career paths and where you can go from wherever that company’s entry wage is to the next? How do you get a chance at a family-sustaining middle-class wage? That’s the conversation that no one’s actually having because it’s nuanced and it’s harder than bullet points that politicians say in speeches.” 

Guild’s customers are familiar brands with tons of entry-level positions — Chipotle, Disney, Walmart and Discover Financial, to name a few. Their employees can opt in to Guild to get connected to free training or even get a bachelor’s degree from an online university. 

In return, clients like Chipotle are noticing a significant return. “Chipotle has a 3.5-times higher retention rate among Guild employees versus their employees who don’t use Guild,” Carlson said. They’re moving into management roles and “into middle-class wages.”

Moving into a better career used to take generations with a grandfather starting in agriculture, his son moving into the industrial economy and the grandson going to college. That’s no longer the simple formula, she said. 

“Now for millennials, Gen X or Y,” she said, “you’re going to have to reskill yourself every three to five years because the new half life of a technical skill is four years.”

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

Carlson acknowledged that some of these traditional service-type jobs are on the wane. There’s a desperate need for truck drivers even as self-driving trucks have already hit the road in pilot programs. More grocery stores, retailers and fast-food chains are going cashierless to eliminate that type of work in stores. Other companies used the pandemic closures to add automation and robotic systems.

Yet, there’s a need today for more restaurant staff, warehouse workers, drivers and service employees that is pushing minimum wage several dollars above Colorado’s $12.32 an hour. That’s still hard to live on, so workers typically cycle through, moving on to better-paying gigs.

“People are willing to do hard work, they’re willing to start at the bottom. It’s part of the American dream to know that you can work your way up,” Carlson said. “We have to stop it with these jobs that are designed for basically a three year in-and-out cycle. … You’re seeing companies that are basically designing jobs that are there to expire.”

While Guild doesn’t share all the companies that are clients, prominent brands are listed in the company’s news releases so one can scout around for employers who want to offer this benefit. Here are a few more sites that have rounded up companies offering education as a perk:

Colorado’s economy by the numbers

Labor shortages and livable wages continue to be a hot topic as America emerges from the pandemic. 

May data released Friday shows that U.S. jobs are returning after the big drop last year. The number of non-farm jobs is still down by 7.6 million, or 5%, from February 2020, before the pandemic, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But industries with notable recovery include leisure and hospitality, plus public and private education. 

Restaurants and hotels continue to struggle to fill jobs, but that’s partly because there were issues prior to the pandemic and employers are now competing with one another for the same workers as restaurants and hotels open for the summer season.

In Colorado’s eight largest metro areas, nearly every region’s labor force grew and unemployment dropped in April, not only from last year, but from March. 

More recent data from the state Department of Labor and Employment also shows a slight improvement in the state’s economy compared with the previous week:

  • 0.6% — Decline in the number of Coloradans on continued unemployment benefits for the week ending May 22. This means roughly 144,426 are still unemployed
  • Of those, 27.8% are on regular state unemployment; the rest are receiving federal benefits 
  • 5,464 — Number of unemployed Coloradans opting into Colorado Jumpstart as of May 31 to qualify for a bonus of $1,200 to $1,600 for returning to work 
  • 106,323 — Job postings on ConnectingColorado.com, the state’s job board, as of June 4
  • $1.01 billion — How much Colorado has borrowed from the federal government to pay unemployed workers, as of June 2

Other bits…

While the federal Restaurant Revitalization Fund is now closed to applications, we now know how many Colorado restaurants got some aid.

In a press tour from Fort Collins to Denver, Sen. John Hickenlooper traveled with U.S. Small Business Administration head Isabella Guzman to announce that 1,587 Colorado restaurants and bars received more than $309 million in the few short weeks the program was offered.

Sen. John Hickenlooper and SBA Administrator Isabella Guzman meet at Coffee on the Point with founder Ryan Cobbins during a tour to publicize the federal Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which provided $309 million in grants to more than 1,500 Colorado restaurants, bars and food trucks. (Provided by Sen. John Hickenlooper’s office)

But despite several organizations deeming it a success and asking for extensions, including the Colorado Restaurant Association, it hasn’t been extended by Congress. 

In a statement, Hickenlooper said, “We will continue to work together to help small businesses in Colorado and across the nation build back better.”

→ PPP ends: In other SBA news, the federal Paycheck Protection Program loans ended May 31 though the program ran out of funding much earlier. Overall, 6.7 million small businesses were approved for loans valued at $278 billion this year. In Colorado, 87,088 businesses received $4.7 billion.

Unemployment beat

The biggest issue I now hear about from unemployed Coloradans is how do I get paid for past weeks? That’s a hard question for me to answer because every case is truly unique. This also isn’t new. People have been trying to get back pay for more than a year.

But if you’re in this situation, call CDLE’s customer service line to get someone on your account right away. This will likely take an investigator to dig into your files to verify that you are owed money. 

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

I also asked the labor department whether back payments requests are still being processed or should people give up? 

Don’t give up, said Jessica Hudgins Smith, press secretary for the Division of Unemployment Insurance.

“Claimants may always request a backdate,” Smith said in an email. “For extremely old requests, the facts surrounding why the request was not initially made in a timely manner is taken into consideration to determine whether to grant or deny any such request.”

Requests made for weeks after Dec. 27 “might need until the end of the month to process,” she added. And if you’re trying to claim weeks prior to Dec. 27, you must schedule a callback by calling 303-318-9000.   

Mixed earners? A handful of people (OK, maybe two readers) continue to ask what happened to the Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation. This was the extra $100 a week for people who straddled regular state unemployment and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. CDLE has repeatedly responded that it’s focused on larger groups with payment issues. The latest? “The answer remains the same,” Smith said.

ID.me and minors: If you’re unemployed and under 18, the state’s identity verifier ID.me won’t verify your ID. Why? It’s a privacy issue and the company prohibits people under 18 from using its site. In Colorado, that means unemployed folks under 18 must call 303-536-5615 and tell a customer service agent they’re underage and need to verify their ID. CDLE updated its “Contact us” page with all sorts of instructions on how to get answers.

Incoming…

Companies that move jobs to Colorado or expand in the state can qualify for tax credits as part of the state’s Job Growth Incentive Tax Credits run by the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade. The catch is the company must add workers at an above average regional wage within eight years. Here are some of the latest companies committing to Colorado:

→ FileInvite, a New Zealand tech company offering a simpler way to collect documents and share them, picked Denver for its U.S. headquarters. It needs to fill 140 jobs in the state although it looks like the only one listed right now in Denver is for an account executive. If company fills those positions at an average annual wage of $102,049 in the next eight years, it qualifies for a $1.7 million tax credit. >> JOBS

→ Datadog, a cybersecurity company, also picked Denver for its Western U.S. hub. The company plans to add 400 jobs in the state, adding to its existing 98-person workforce. Wages must average $122,194 annually to qualify for $5.4 million in tax credits. >> JOBS

→ Crusoe Energy is already in Denver but is expanding its headquarters to the tune of 286 people. It currently has 58 employees, of which 20 are in Colorado. The company captures wasted natural gas from oil and gas extraction and turns it into electricity for use in data centers. The annual salary for these positions is expected to be $122,795, according to OEDIT. If fulfilled, Crusoe would qualify for $3.8 million in tax credits. >> JOBS


Thanks for tuning into another week of What’s Working. If you have a tip or suggestion, job or small business grant, email me at tamara@coloradosun.com and please include “What’s Working” in your subject line to help me keep track of column questions. Have a great week! ~tamara

This story was updated on June 7, 2021 with tax credit data available to new and expanding companies in Colorado.


What’s Working is a Colorado Sun column for readers navigating pandemic employment. Read the archive and don’t miss the next one. Get this free newsletter delivered to your inbox by signing up at coloradosun.com/getww.

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