Utah companies look to higher education for hiring advantage in tight job market

Utah is amazing 1.9% unemployment rate is a new low that politicians often boast as a sign of the state’s booming economy. It’s also fueling a protracted post-pandemic labor shortage as businesses struggle to find workers. Increasingly, employers are turning to education for help.

Utah’s higher education system has held town hall meetings with leaders from industries such as technology and healthcare to understand what adjustments need to be made. On Friday, they heard about manufacturing, a huge and growing industry that represents 1 in 5 jobs in Utah and pays about 40% more than the state average.

Executives have said the talent shortage they face is urgent. The traditional model of students leaving for a university or technical college for additional training takes too long and now they have to step in.

“The industry needs to do its part,” said Matt Wardle, CEO of JD Machine Corp.., a component supplier in Ogden. “We have to be very closely linked with the education and the direction of the program. Workplace learning is essential in this whole process.

The relationship between industries and schools has grown, but is often hampered by bureaucracy and outdated requirements. Even students who already work in labs while earning degrees often have to quit their jobs to take a lab course at a university, said Jeff Nelson, president of Nelson Laboratories. This represents a huge waste of time and a missed opportunity.

Chuck Taylor, president of the aircraft manufacturer SyberJet in Cedar City, said it is working with Southern Utah University and Southwest Technical College to enable employees to earn additional certifications and training that supplement what they learn on the job. While SUU Aircraft Maintenance Engineer Program recently received re-certification from the Federal Aviation Administration, Taylor is now going through a similar process but pending approval.

“This particular program is a great progression for our employees,” he said. “But it will require the cooperation of higher education as well as accreditation councils. But it’s worth it, I think.

The change ultimately amounts to better opportunities for students. Business leaders say they must not only offer higher wages, but also create more supportive workplaces by providing flexible hours, mentoring and ensuring employees have opportunities for growth.

“Employees have so many choices right now,” Nelson said. “We all do a lot to invest in culture.

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