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Grant program targets demand for skilled workers

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah is currently among a few states that have more job openings than there are qualified people to fill them.

For that reason, the state is developing programs aimed at addressing the needs of employers across various industries in search of skilled labor to hire.

For Salt Lake resident Jedidiah Tronier, 27, one of those programs changed his life and put him on the path to long-term career satisfaction.

"I was an automotive mechanic and it was kind of a dead-end job," he explained. "I wanted something more exciting and stimulating."

To his good fortune, he was referred to Paramount Machine, a Salt Lake City-based precision machining company that was looking for apprentice candidates to work in their state-of-the-art facility. Since his father was an "old-school" machinist, he gave the program a look and was very surprised at how the industry had changed from when his father had worked in it.

"What he did was totally different than what we do here," Tronier said. "Old-school machining is touching the parts and moving them around (to make them). This you almost have the complete part without every really touching it."

That's because today's parts are manufactured in computerized fabrication devices that are programmed by machinists rather than forged by them, said Paramount Machine President Steve Van Orden.

"This (apprenticeship) program helps put awareness out there so that we get kids that are ready," he said.

The industry has changed so drastically in the two decades since Van Orden started the company that he said people are always amazed at how high tech his facility is and the processes used to machine parts and tools.

"When I started it was manual equipment with little technology, just dials and gauges," he said. "Now it's all electronic and measured out. Measuring instruments are better, cutting tools are better and faster, machines can create shapes and forms that we couldn't do in the past."

The apprenticeship program was made possible by Talent Ready Utah grant funding from $2.125 million of state monies designated to promote educational collaboration to help Utah develop a pipeline of qualified labor to meet the needs of employers statewide.

“Building Utah’s workforce is essential for our economy and for the success of our families,” said Utah Gov. Gary Herbert. “We need to prepare a critical mass of skilled workers in select economic clusters where there is demand. That can only happen if we have talent ready for those jobs."

The Talent Ready Utah program supports the governor’s strategy for a qualified workforce in creating a more responsive post-secondary education system, said Tami Pyfer, Herbert's education adviser. Key initiatives will focus on increasing the number of employers who invest in high-quality, work-based learning partnerships with education and by developing the pipeline of talent, she said.

Program grants focus on strengthening collaboration between industry, education, and economic development in order to better respond to the needs of regional and statewide-designated clusters, said Melisa Stark, Utah Talent Ready grant manager.

Since 2009, more than 70 projects have been funded through the Talent Ready Utah program, with 174 training programs developed or expanded and over 5,800 workers receiving industry-recognized credentials. The program is focused on building the state’s workforce by increasing work-based learning opportunities available to students and adult learners, Pyfer said.

"People that have vocational training have less regrets about the pathway they chose (for their careers)," she said "This apprenticeship program is a part of that. We need to capitalize on that."

The state's employment situation remains strong, according to the latest data from the Utah Department of Workforce Services. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for last month rose 1/10 of a percent to 3.2 percent, as Utah’s nonfarm payroll employment for May 2017 grew by just over 3 percent as the state economy added 44,500 jobs since last May.

While the current employment level indicates that 1,467,900 Utahns are gainfully employed, approximately 50,800 people were jobless during the month and actively seeking work. Nationally, the unemployment rate decreased 1/10 of a percentage point from April to register at 4.3 percent.

The Department of Workforce Services reported that nine of the 10 private sector industry groups measured in the establishment survey posted net job increases in May compared to last year, with outlier Natural Resources and Mining losing 700 positions.

Conversely, the largest private sector employment increases were in professional and business services, which gained 11,800 positions; with trade, transportation and utilities adding 9,400 jobs; and construction bringing on 5,200 new positions. The fastest employment growth occurred in professional and business services — up 5.9 percent, construction — up 5.6 percent, along with trade, transportation and utilities moving up 3.5 percent.

“Utah’s labor market continues to expand across the vast majority of business sectors,” said the department's chief economist, Carrie Mayne. “We are currently in the 83rd month of the state’s longest job market expansion in the last 15 years.”