Office of the Future of Work

Office of the Future of Work

The world of work is changing, propelling some to greater heights while leaving others behind. Globalization, advances in technology, demographic shifts, and other factors leave many wondering whether we, as a society, are ready to face the many challenges tomorrow’s economy will bring. That’s why the Office of the Future of Work (OFOW) was created: to understand, prepare for, and develop policy and programmatic solutions to foster an economy that works for everyone in Colorado. The OFOW shapes an equitable economy of the future and ensures that Coloradans are equipped with the necessary education, training, skills, and tools to fully participate in the labor force.

The office, created by an Executive Order from Governor Polis on September 4, 2019 also seeks to raise awareness about the future of work. To accomplish its goals, the office works in partnership with other state departments, convenes summits with diverse stakeholders across regions, and establishes task forces and working groups. 

Read the Executive Order


On June 23, 2021, Governor Polis signed HB21-1007: State Apprenticeship Agency into law, codifying the state's commitment to increase access to earn-and-learn programs that lead to high quality jobs and to build the talent pipeline that industry needs.

In August 2021, CDLE announced the OFOW will lead the implementation of HB21-1007 and the apprenticeship expansion efforts currently funded through the following federal discretionary grants:

With oversight of the SAA and expansion of registered apprenticeships, the OFOW will play a direct role in ensuring more Coloradan workers and businesses have access to high quality apprenticeship programs that create a future-ready talent pipeline.

What is the future of work?

The future of work refers to the changing demographics, globalization and other market forces on the work we do and how we do it.

Globalization & Market Forces
  • Global interconnectedness, shifts in supply and demand, trade, and government priorities continuously shape the nature of work.

  • The growth of alternative work arrangements and other implications of the fissured workplace

Technological Advances
  • Automation, artificial intelligence, and digitalization will impact every job and displace some requiring new skills and mindsets from all workers.

Demographic Shifts
  • Colorado is aging rapidly and diversifying. A successful future of work depends on the ability of all Coloradans to connect to opportunity.

 The Work Ahead: Preparing for Automation

The OFOW will focus on three areas of exploration:

  • Modern worker protections and benefits

  • Identifying programs, tools, best practices, and resources to support individuals, employers, and communities succeed in the future of work

  • Understanding the future of work for target populations often left behind in the current economy

Modern worker protections and benefits

Worker protections and benefits need to reflect the needs of a modern workplace and workforce to ensure that they have the support they need to weather today and tomorrow’s economic changes. In considering how these protections and benefits can best benefit Coloradans, the OFOW explores:

  • How to increase access to critical worker protections

  • How we can improve the quality of today’s low-wage, high-value occupations such as our direct care workforce

  • How we can better understand the on-demand economy and support its workforce

Transformation planning for all

The changing nature of work requires that Colorado’s workers, employers, and communities take a proactive approach to ensure their success. The office builds awareness of what the future of work means for workers, employers and communities, and connects Coloradans to tools and strategies they can thrive. To do so, the OFOW focuses on:

  • Defining the key skills and mindsets that will serve individuals in the future of work

  • Ensuring all Coloradans are equipped with the necessary education, training, skills, competencies

  • Identifying key factors for community resilience in the face of economic shifts and supporting efforts to develop those factors across the state

  • Understanding the needs of small- and medium-sized businesses, underserved populations, and diverse regions in their digital transformation journey

Support for underserved populations

The OFOW recognizes that Colorado’s workers come from diverse economic, racial, ethnic, national, and educational backgrounds and have different barriers to success. To ensure that the office serves all Coloradans, it is dedicated to:

  • Understanding the needs different populations in diverse locations can prepare for the future of work, and how the office can support them

  • Understanding how different populations use service programs, and how these programs can be improved

  • Aligning and promoting programs to better serve underserved populations

The OFOW will initially focus on how it can align with and inform existing and emerging efforts to support New Americans, people with disabilities, mid-career professionals, people who have been involved with the justice system, and mature workers.

The entirety of the OFOW’s work is guided by three considerations, which emphasize the importance of:

  1. Acknowledging regional diversity: Colorado’s diverse communities have unique and distinct needs.

  2. Focusing on the needs of left behind Coloradans: Many Coloradans feel left behind by Colorado’s economy.

  3. Building with the end user in mind: To ensure that the office’s work is effective and useful, policy, programs, and other solutions are designed with the end-user front and center.

Joe Barela, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Labor and Employment

In December 2018, Governor Polis appointed Joe Barela as the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. Joe brings more than 25 years of experience in workforce issues to CDLE and is seen as a local and national leader in the field. Joe is passionate about creating more opportunities for better career pathways for working Americans, and brings that passion and leadership to his role at CDLE.

In 2015, Joe served at the U.S. Department of Labor as a Senior Advisor; he helped coordinate the USDOL’s implementation of the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA) at state and local levels. In his current role as the Executive Director of CDLE, Joe serves on the Business Experiential and Learning Commission, the Education Leadership Council, and the Colorado Workforce Development Council. He also serves on the board for the Center for Work Education and Employment, and the National Association of State Workforce Agencies while also chairing their Labor Market Information Committee.

Katherine Keegan, MSSW, Director of the Office of the Future of Work

Katherine began her career in Boston with Catholic Charities providing resettlement services to newly arrived refugees. This work led her to pursue a master’s of science in social work at The University of Texas at Austin where she focused her studies on systems change, program development, and coalition building. Katherine honed her leadership abilities by managing statewide AmeriCorps VISTA and State programs in Texas. After returning to her home state, Colorado, Katherine worked as a Senior Manager of Coaching Initiatives with Skillful. There she oversaw the Skillful Coaching Initiative in Colorado and Indiana, and developed pilot projects to increase access to coaching services for target populations. In August 2019, she joined the Colorado Department of Labor & Employment as the Director of the Office of the Future of Work.

Denise Miller, Ed.D, State Coordinator for Apprenticeships and Experiential Learning

Melissa English, MS, Apprenticeship Specialist

Melissa started her career in workforce development at the Larimer County Workforce Center as a Business Services Consultant shortly after graduating from college and moving to Colorado from the east coast. While at the Workforce Center, Melissa returned to school to complete her Master’s degree in Human Resources Management so she could better understand the needs of the businesses she worked with daily and could truly think like an employer, a perspective she still takes into every employer conversation today. After moving to Denver, Melissa made a career transition into higher education and began working as an Experiential Learning Coordinator at Red Rocks Community College, helping students gain hands-on experience to complement what they were learning in the classroom. While at Red Rocks Community College, Melissa helped develop the first cybersecurity registered apprenticeship program in Colorado and found a passion for helping organizations develop high-quality registered apprenticeship programs that expand apprenticeship opportunities to individuals throughout Colorado. Melissa brings over 15 years of registered apprenticeship, higher education, and workforce development experience to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment and the Office of the Future of Work. 

Helen Carpenter, Apprenticeship State Expansion Grant Coordinator

Helen began her career in the nonprofit sector, working with large nonprofit organizations in Denver providing data and programmatic support to development efforts. Since 2019, Helen has been working with CDLE on workforce development programs, grants administration, and strategic planning for expanding apprenticeship programs across Colorado. In her most recent role as Apprenticeship State Expansion Grants Coordinator, Helen manages all aspects of the federal Apprenticeship State Expansion grant, cultivates and facilitates strategic partnerships with various local, state, and federal stakeholders, and supports grantees in meeting grant goals.

Max Nathanson, Economic Development Advisor

Owen Zighelboim, Remote Work Initiative Program Assistant


How to Get Involved

Preparing for the future of work requires collaboration between industry, workforce, education, government, and community organizations, with diverse voices at the table. 

Join our movement to prepare Colorado for the future of work by:

  • Participating in a working group for the 2020-2021 projects

  • Sharing resources, research, information about how the future of work affects you

  • Being added to distribution list for future news and alerts

  • Requesting a Future of Work presentation for your organization

  • Submitting a comment or question

Fill out this form to get involved

    Reports & Deliverables