Across the US — and the globe — companies report having trouble finding enough qualified job candidates. According to the 2016/2017 Talent Shortage Survey by Manpower group, 46 percent of employers in the US report having difficulty filling jobs. Skilled trades maintain their No. 1 hardest-to-fill standing for the past six years. Talent shortages are especially concerning in highly technical positions like manufacturing and software/IT.
In a state like Utah, which tops the rest of the country in job growth — building a pipeline of talented employees for industries is critical. As of March 2018, Utah's unemployment rate held steady at 3.1 percent, while the US unemployment rate was 4.1 percent. Utah's private sector employment also rose by 3.7 percent year-over-year.
To help ease the strain on companies, Gov. Gary Herbert launched an initiative in 2017 to help build a more skilled workforce for high-demand, high-wage jobs in the state. Talent Ready Utah is designed to both strengthen industry and educational partnerships to provide work-based learning opportunities for students within the industries and to connect the state's workforce to training opportunities.
Kimberlee Carlile, director of industry and talent initiatives for the Utah Governor's Office of Economic Development, says collaboration is the key to building the talent pipeline companies will need in Utah both now and for the future. Since the launch of Talent Ready Utah, Carlile says industries have shown their enthusiasm for the program through their continued involvement and input.
"Something that is unique to Utah is our collaborative approach," says Carlile. "Gov. Herbert jokes and says that's the 'secret sauce,' but really it helps when we have government and industry and education all coming to the table and working together to make something beneficial for our students to enhance our education system."
Currently, the initiative offers four pathways for students to pursue: medical innovations, aerospace, diesel tech and IT. These pathways provide high school students with the skills required to pursue a career in their chosen field. Students who complete the program receive a certificate and are guaranteed an interview with any industry partner company in their pathway. The initiative has 25 industry partners and works with 15 education and government partners.
"Our three education systems work extremely well together," says Carlile. "We have K-12, our technical college system and our higher education system. There have been times when we've had companies like Boeing, for example, who might suggest what they want to make sure that we have enough talent to fill our pipeline here in Utah. And we're willing to respond. We were able to get the Aerospace Pathways Program going in about six months. That's unheard of to get curriculum change going that quickly. But we were able to do it because we have that flexibility and the collaborative spirit."
The newest pathway, the IT Pathways Program, was formed in August 2017 and aims to more effectively align education with the state's more pressing workforce pipeline needs. Utah leads the country in tech job growth. More than 4,000 software and IT companies in the state employ more than 68,000 people — figures that are expected to continue to increase.
"The IT Pathways Program will fill critical workforce needs in our state and ensure the continues success of Utah's tech industry," said Gov. Herbert. "This program will be an important investment — for education, for our growing workforce, for the IT industry and for economic opportunity — in other words, Utah's future."
Since the IT pathway started, several education and industry partners have come together to pilot the program. Students will have the opportunity to participate in job shadowing at partner companies like Dell EMC, DOMO, Instructure, Pluralsight, Microsoft, and Vivint among others.
"IT Pathways program will expand beyond coders and software engineers making it possible for people to enter the tech workforce at various stages of their careers," said Val Hale, executive director of GOED. "Industry knows best of current needs and future demands. The next generation will have the opportunity to learn first-hand what it takes to be successful in the rapidly changing tech industry."
Additional programs are aimed at bolstering the state's tech and STEM workforce. The Women Tech Council, a national organization headquartered in Salt Lake City, encourages high school girls to consider careers and degrees in STEM and technology through its SheTech program.
In 2017, The Women Tech Council hosted SheTech Explorer Days, which brought 2,000 high school girls together under one roof with 508 STEM mentors and 150 tech companies. The students were able to participate in 40 different workshops and many hands-on STEM activities.
"We've heard fantastic stories about how it changes their trajectory to technology careers and wanting to do computer science in college," says Sara Jones, Co-founder and COO of The Women Tech Council.
Jones says it's important for girls to be exposed to careers in STEM and to see the opportunities for them at home. Jones notes that tech companies looking to find employees — from entry level to the C-suite — should take advantage of the resources and network connections the council offers.
Another STEM program, Girls Who Code, began five years ago in New York City and was recently launched statewide in Utah. Girls Who Code partnered with Adobe, Dell EMC, Microsoft and the Utah STEM Action Center to launch the Utah Girls Who Code Club Network. Beginning in the fall semester, nearly 50 clubs will open at schools, community centers, libraries and other community organizations and will work with industry partners and girls in grades 7 through 12. The clubs offer young girls the chance to learn the concepts behind programing languages and help to close the gender gap in the technology.
Dell EMC vice president and general manager Vance Checketts said, "Never before has technology been so core to our economy and our society at large. We have an incredible opportunity to truly drive human progress through technology, and we can't realize the full potential without our girls. We're so excited to partner with Girls Who Code to prepare the next generation of female leaders to grow and throve in a connected world. When we engage and empower our girls, there is no limit to what we can achieve as a global community."