The Salt Lake Chamber hosted its quarterly Prosperity 2020 Forum last week, continuing ongoing discussions about how to better connect industry and education and boost workforce development efforts across the state. The panel was moderated by Sean Slatter, president and CEO of Logistic Specialties, Inc. (LSI), and included Edson Barton, CEO of Precision Exams; Kimberlee Carlile, Director of Industry and Talent Initiatives for the Governor’s Office of Economic Development; Sydnee Dickson, State Superintendent of Public Instruction; Jason Skidmore, Director of Career and Technical Education at the Jordan School District; and Julianna Wing a CTE teacher at Herriman High School. Panelists shared tips for getting involved and their own personal experiences with various workforce development programs such as CTE and Pathways and how they can be mutually beneficial for Utah’s students and businesses.

Here are 4 key takeaways from the panel discussion:

The importance of engagement

All of the panelists stressed the importance of finding ways for education and business leaders to engage in order to help students thrive both inside and outside of the classroom. Superintendent Dickson spoke to the fact that in today’s complex world, it is crucial for students to have exposure to the private sector and receive hands-on training experiences. Edson Barton from Precision Exams followed up with the notion that although many businesses know it’s important to engage, they don’t know how or where to start. He suggested businesses consider getting involved in all levels of education and think about engagement from the students perspective. As businesses do this, they will show students on all levels the value of what is being taught and discussed. Partnering with your local schools and initiatives can be the easiest way to get started. Career and Technical Education was highlighted as a well-established way for businesses to get involved in education. Jason Skidmore explained that CTE is much more broad than many think, beginning with making students aware of career and technical education at a young age and then the exploration phase in high school, where students can take CTE classes, gain hands-on experience and answer the questions of “where would I use this in the ‘real world’?” Skidmore recommended businesses look to get involved in CTE by creating partnerships with their local school district and joining advisory boards to express ideas for better aligning industry needs with training.

The awareness factor

Whether it’s a student or business, the largest barrier to getting involved in workforce development initiatives is not being aware of opportunities. Of course, panelists said that getting the word out is the hardest part. Because of this, it is crucial that education and business don’t work in their own worlds. There must be crossover and communication between groups to ensure everyone is aware of existing efforts. The most important thing a business can do to get involved is simply to “open your mouth” and talk about concerns with workforce development and ways you feel your company could contribute to educational initiatives. Events such as the Prosperity 2020 forums are a good way to network and meet education leaders and become aware of opportunities to engage. Even more successful is Talent Ready Utah, an initiative announced by Gov. Herbert in his “State of the State” address, is set up as the hub for supporting businesses involved in education activities like internships, industry tours, in-classroom presentations, etc. This includes pathways programs to build workforce needs through strategic partnerships between education and industry. Kimberlee Carlile oversees Talent Ready Utah and works to forge partnerships between business and education as part of the Pathways Programs. She shared the overwhelming success of these programs and how Utah has been noticed for its collaboration on the Pathways Programs. “When we build these partnerships, good things happen,” she said. Adding that it not only trains a skilled workforce, but helps grow our economy through students accepting jobs within the business or industry for which they were trained.

It’s all about student success

Jason Skidmore reminded attendees that it’s important to remember that for parents, Career and Technical Education is not what it was when they were in high school. There are so many options for students now to help them become career and college ready. Edson Barton added that the important part of this is making sure that as a business community, we value career and technical education and other stackable credentials that incrementally prepare students for success. As a high school CTE teacher, Julianna Wing shared many examples of how her students have worked with local businesses and the difference that engagement makes for them. “Come show students what you do. Don’t just tell them, teach them the necessary skills with hands-on engagement,” she said. Ultimately, as Superintendent Dickson put it, students need to be educationally prepared and have the necessary underlying skills to provide them a choice about their future and create the world they want. Without this preparation, their choices will be limited.

Areas for improvement and expansion

While the Wasatch Front continues to see unprecedented economic growth, the rural areas of the state are still struggling to grow their economies and find jobs. Carlile mentioned the creation of a new IT Pathways Program that will focus on rural Utah and highlight opportunities for remote work and telecommuting jobs in high-tech, high-skilled industries. Superintendent Dickson shared her experience working with rural schools and shared how truly innovative they are, but just lack the resources and vision. She encouraged businesses to offer more support to our rural areas of the state and to provide more resources and opportunities for students.

Overall, the panel provided solid tactical ideas for how businesses can engage early to help train a highly skilled and prepared workforce for the jobs of the future. Thank you to our moderator, panelists and attendees that joined in on this substantive discussion. Please continue to follow along with our weekly workforce blog posts to learn from other business and education leaders about the importance of getting involved in workforce development.