The Salt Lake Chamber convened business leaders and community advocates on August 12, 2021, for a summit to address critical shortages in the workforce. The Workforce Summit included a keynote address by Commissioner David R. Woolstenhulme of the Utah System of Higher Education, which focused on the importance of removing obstacles that prevent Utahns from entering the workforce. 

“We are so fortunate to live here in the state of Utah where growth returned quickly after the pandemic recession,” said Woolstenhulme. “Now we are facing the challenges of growth, especially the need for a reenergized workforce.”

Higher education, whether it be college, trade school, or apprenticeships, is one of the most effective ways to grow the state’s workforce. Each year, Utah relies on newly graduated and trained citizens to fill important roles. However, with Utah’s recent, dramatic economic growth, the demands of the workplace have outgrown the available workers. Increasing access to education is a necessary step in keeping up with the economy.

“One of the values of higher education is giving students the skills they need to enter the workplace,” Woolstenhulme said. “Unfortunately, there are many barriers in the way of getting that education.”

There are a number of obstacles between potential students and their future in the workforce. While affordability sits at the forefront, childcare, housing, and transportation are also major concerns. Luckily, the USHE is taking the initiative to remove those barriers with Learn & Work, a state-wide program that provides tuition assistance for short-term programs at post-secondary institutions for unemployed or underemployed individuals.

“These are not your traditional programs,” Woolstenhulme said. “These are programs specifically designed to help Utah’s students get into the workforce.”

The unique approach of the Learn & Work program prepares students for higher-paying and more stable, high-impact careers and matches them with companies looking for much-needed skills and expertise. The program is an initiative of the Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity, and the support of the legislature shows Utah’s commitment to education.

“We’re not in this alone,” Woolstenhulme said. “In this endeavor, we have all our friends here.”

To learn more about Utah’s Learn & Work program, visit their website.