This year’s second Prosperity 2020 Forum focused around higher education and workforce development, a main facet of Governor Herbert’s Life Elevated 2020 plan. The panel was moderated by Sean Slatter, president and CEO of Logistic Strategies, Inc. and included Vance Checketts, vice president of Dell EMC, Pres. Deneece Huftalin of Salt Lake Community College, Megen Ralphs, director of Human Resources for MSC Aerospace, and David Lang, head of Salt Lake City operations at Goldman Sachs. Each of the panelists shared their unique perspective about why workforce development matters and the ways in which education, business and community leaders can work together to solve these challenges.

Governor Herbert’s Life Elevated 2020 Plan

During the forum, Kristen Cox, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget, took a few minutes to talk about what Governor Herbert’s Life Elevated plan includes regarding education and workforce. Cox explained that because we know growth is in the state’s future, we need to think holistically about how to best prepare for that growth. For example, growth means addressing infrastructure needs, tax reform and education funding, and if we look at these issues as interconnected, more can be accomplished than trying to take each on their own. Cox also talked about how focusing the goal will truly help move the needle on building a skilled workforce. In regards to workforce, the Life Elevated 2020 plan prioritizes “developing a critical mass of skilled workers for high paying jobs, by creating innovative and affordable training programs to significantly increase job growth.” An example of this type of innovative training program is the Pathways program, which was discussed by the panelists during the forum.

A Broad Look

What does workforce development look like on the ground level?

Vance Checketts mentioned the short-term and long-term development options, as well as emphasizing the importance of exposing children to tech early on in their education. Megen Ralphs agreed, saying that from the small business perspective, having a long-term strategy and getting kids excited early helps solve workforce problems in the future. Although the ROI is delayed, it does pays off. Lang said more guidance and mentorship is needed to lead students to job opportunities in the long run.While President Huftalin added that beyond technical skills development, workforce development also includes soft skills such as critical thinking, writing, and communication across diversity, which college courses help to provide.

What best practices could be implemented to make improvements?

Checketts responded that Utah does not need to start or create any new educational initiatives, but instead better coordinate the many that we have. This can be accomplished through the initiative Talent Ready Utah, which has the opportunity to become a forum across the state and convene the many groups working on education and workforce issues. Other panelists touched on internships and apprenticeships as a best practice that could be expanded to help connect students to jobs, and supporting educational partners to make these types of programs sustainable.

David Lang discussed Goldman Sachs’ internship program as their primary tool to build a strong talent pipeline. This summer alone, Goldman Sachs has welcomed 270 interns to their Salt Lake City offices, of which 80% will be convert into full-time employment after the 10 week internship has concluded. From a small business standpoint, Megen Ralphs said working closely with the technical colleges and the local universities has been helpful, especially the applied technology colleges as they have the ability to be flexible and work with companies to create tailored paths for students and even current employees to learn the skills they need to be successful.

Rethinking College

President Huftalin helped the audience start to shift their thinking about what “college” means. “We need to start changing what we say to our kids,” she said. “We’ve created a stigma about what ‘college’ means and parents, counselors, and mentors need to help students understand that there are options for college beyond a traditional 4-year degree.” College can be one year, two years, or four years. Huftalin says students need to know it’s okay to go to one year of college to get a certificate and then go out to have a really successful life and career, but what they can’t afford to do is not go to college at all. The panelists agreed, while also stressing the importance of work-based learning opportunities and internships as a way to supplement formal education and training.

Sean Slatter asked the panelists if they thought that perhaps the mentality about our kids needing a 4-year degree has created some of the state’s workforce problems. Ralphs thought so, saying that blue collar work like manufacturing has acquired a bad name for itself and that a pendulum swing must happen to boost the value of that work. Lang explained that at Goldman Sachs, they have recently changed from hiring only finance or business majors to hiring students coming out of college with any major, “we value those with the capacity to work, no matter what your degree is in,” he said. “If you have a diverse way of thinking and problem solving, you can work at Goldman Sachs.”

The panel ended with a few questions from the audience regarding education funding, job shadowing programs, transferable credits, and ensuring the state’s workforce development programs reach out to under-served populations.

Thank you to the moderator, panelists and guests that joined Prosperity 2020 for this insightful conversation. Overall, the panel presented unique perspectives and thoughts that can help industry, education and government work together to find solutions that will benefit not only our current workforce, but the workforce of the future.