The school year has arrived and students are once again fretting about classes, homework and tests. Business leaders, however, have a different concern: finding qualified workers for the jobs of the future. A new academic year brings with it an increase of exciting and new opportunities for students and businesses alike. As such, now is the perfect time for businesses to get engaged in available workforce development opportunities across the state. For the next eight weeks, the Salt Lake Chamber will feature a blog series focused on sharing opportunities for businesses to engage with educators and ensure Utah’s students are equipped with the skills they need to be successful in the workforce.

The reasons for Utah’s labor shortage are varied and the effects far-reaching. Despite what the reasons are, it’s clear the business community must step up and commit to engaging in hands-on solutions. In December 2015, a Utah Foundation report observed 71% of 151 major local employers had some level of difficulty finding enough skilled or qualified employees. The same report found that one-third of those employers believed the worker shortage was the single greatest factor impeding their growth. Now almost 2 years later, the Salt Lake Chamber’s most recent CEOutlook–a quarterly statewide economic survey of Utah’s foremost business executives–found similar results: Utah’s business executives still believe workforce is the single greatest challenge to business growth. These statistics prove Utah’s workforce challenges are not new, nor are solutions easy to accomplish. However, without industry support for education and workforce initiatives, improvements are not possible.

Because we understand this issue is a concern for businesses across the state, the Salt Lake Chamber has placed a special emphasis on workforce development. In the past three months alone, the Chamber has included workforce challenges as a major component of our blueprint visioning process, held a Prosperity 2020 Forum with higher education and business leaders to discuss workforce development and our President and CEO Lane Beattie encouraged business leaders to “simply get involved” in his August President’s Message.

But as always, much more can be done as we convene public and private sector partners together to learn next steps for getting business involved in education. Utah’s collective business community is turning the corner from only talking about the issue to stepping up and taking action. We know it’s an issue, so let’s get tactical. How can you and your employees contribute to a solution? The business community can make an impact by working with students, teachers and administrators to share where skills gaps exist and contribute to work-based learning opportunities. While the public sector is often bogged down in bureaucracy, businesses shouldn’t lose sight of what makes us so capable of creating change–the ability to be creative, adaptive and flexible. Working together and sharing this creativity and adaptability with partners from the public sector has led to numerous initiatives for local businesses to engage with the education community and make a difference in workforce development such as Talent Ready Utah, Career and Technical Education, Pathways Programs, and college and university advisory boards and councils.

Upcoming blogs in this series will highlight businesses who have found success getting involved in education, feature industry and educational leaders ideas about how to take advantage of the above mentioned opportunities and preview upcoming events designed to make connections between public and private sector stakeholders even stronger. So, follow along. School is back in session, and now is the time for businesses to do their homework, take advantage of new opportunities and participate in finding solutions to Utah’s workforce challenges.

Please join us for our next Prosperity 2020 Forum “Driven By Industry: Getting Business Involved in Education”  on September 21st from 12:00-1:30 pm.  Click here to register and learn more about our panelists.