Governor Gary Herbert's new IT "Pathways Program" is a step in the right direction but Utah must continue to champion the kind of educational training that will grow the state's tech industry in the long run.
Utah companies justifiably lament the lack of locally-based STEM-trained workers needed to fuel the burgeoning tech sector. Industry and education should look for more opportunities to come together to form innovative public private partnerships and build Utah's skilled workforce for the 21st century.
According to a recent study, the skills necessary to succeed in available jobs are harder for employers to find.
Some point out that Utah's education system simply doesn't have enough computer science classes. When high schools do offer Advance Placement computer science courses, students aren't signing up.
In addition to leaders within the "Silicon Slopes" community speaking out, the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce has expressed similar concerns about the impact of an under-skilled workforce. "(A)s a result of a vibrant economy, many industries are already impacted by a lack of hourly and skilled talent," an article from the Chamber notes. "This pressing labor shortage should also serve as a warning sign to the future constraints on our economy from an under-qualified workforce." Consequently, the Chamber supports initiatives to improve "innovation, investment and accountability in Utah’s education system."
Current needs require a dynamic response.
One such example of the kind of innovative educational investment that the state needs more of is the Governor's IT "Pathways Program"--a creative partnership between industry and public post-secondary schools aimed at aligning industry needs with educational and job opportunities. Pathways Programs are part of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development or GOED's Talent Ready initiative to train Utahns for other technical jobs.
The Utah Aerospace Pathways program, for example, gives high schoolers the ability to work toward a certificate in aerospace manufacturing with a concrete chance of beginning work for a reputable company such as Boeing after graduation. The programs are also integrated into post-secondary opportunities. Given Utah's new employment ecosystem, an IT Program is a natural addition.
There are those who will undoubtedly want evidence that these programs--part of the Governor’s aim of having 40,000 new “high-skill, high-paying jobs” by 2021--are paying the kind of dividends they promise. Yet, with a real need for a more skilled workforce in the STEM and other tech trades, the new initiative is a worthy pursuit.