January 17, 2012

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Head of the Class

Local Colleges Innovate to Supply 21st Century Workforce

Gaylen Webb

January 17, 2012

In eight short years, approximately 66 percent of all Utah jobs will require some post secondary training beyond high school. That’s according to projections made by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. “The Georgetown University report is a foundational point of research that we are using to develop Utah’s 2020 plan for higher education,” says Cameron Martin, associate commissioner for economic development and planning for the Utah System of Higher Education. “It is a credible report we have verified through the Utah Department of Workforce Services.” The major goal of the Vision 2020 plan is for at least 66 percent of the state’s workforce to have at least an associate’s degree by the year 2020. Currently, only 39 percent of Utahns hold post secondary education degrees or certificates. Because of that huge gap between the projected demand and what the state can actually supply, Martin says it is essential that Utah awaken itself to the need to increase the number of individuals with post secondary degrees or certificates—especially within three of the hottest job markets: international business, renewable energy and digital media. Two of those hot markets, renewable energy and digital media, have been incorporated into the Utah Cluster Acceleration Partnership (UCAP), an innovative effort in which Utah’s institutions of higher education become regional hubs of economic activity and the respective presidents become “regional economic stewards.” UCAP, says Martin, is about aligning the needs of industry with the talent production of Utah’s system of higher education, “so that the workforce we produce has the skills and level of education to meet the demands of our industries.” Digital Media Utah has developed a strong cluster of digital media companies, and many of the state’s colleges and universities are rapidly adding or expanding programs to meet the demand for educated workers in that industry. For example, Utah Valley University is leading a pilot UCAP initiative to align the needs of this hot market with the educational programs at Utah’s colleges and universities. “Digital media has long been an area of excellence for UVU students,” says President Matthew S. Holland. “Like UVU, the state understands the importance of this area, and we are thrilled to partner with the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) and USTAR's central Utah office as the host site for the state's digital media cluster initiative.” As the director of technology outreach for the Utah Science, Technology and Research Initiative (USTAR), Steve Roy has his finger on the pulse of Utah educational innovations in digital media. He notes that the University of Utah just implemented a new master’s program in digital media, which is being hosted by the school’s Digital Media Institute. “It speaks to the demand in the digital media marketplace for employees with specialized training in management, production, technical skills and artistic skills,” he explains. In a related effort, the institute will collaborate with Utah computer gaming studios to promote entrepreneurship by licensing university technology to spin-off companies. Down the road in Utah County, Brigham Young University has established a world-class digital media program that is sponsored by digital media giant Pixar. “Pixar is really picky about who it sponsors and helps,” says Roy, “which says a lot about BYU’s program.” Pixar has agreed to hire three or four BYU animation graduates each year, and also sends its own employees to the school to mentor students. In 2008, BYU announced the creation of its new Center for Animation. Since the creation of its animation program in 2001, BYU has garnered numerous College Television Awards, more commonly known as "Student Emmys," from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, and also several "Student Academy Awards" from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Roy says Weber State University is also hot about digital media; however its program is primarily focused on digital media in the mobile space. “Weber’s program was developed around the recognition that there will be more and more mobile devices and consequently a greater need to grow talent for that marketplace. It is an extremely rapidly growing field,” he continues. Meanwhile, Utah State University is focused on the simulation side of digital media. In fact, the school is a leader in educational programs for computer simulations and serious gaming, says Roy. A New Media Center is under construction at Salt Lake Community College that should be completed in the fall of 2012. Dr. Anna Szabados, dean of the School of Arts, Communication and New Media at SLCC, says the new space will not only allow the school’s creative faculty to be housed under one roof, but will also encourage interdisciplinary approaches to education and support business and scientific simulations. SLCC is currently adding a Creative Arts Entrepreneurship Certificate to its program because, says Szabados, “Anyone that is working in a creative profession will at one time or another freelance.” The purpose of the certificate program is to ensure that students will know how to run a small business should they choose to do so. Innovative efforts in digital media training aren’t limited to Utah’s colleges and universities. The Granite Technical Institute, which is part of the Granite School District, offers high school students the opportunity to develop career paths in digital media techniques, animation and game design. In fact, the institute makes it possible for high school students to move on to college or into the workforce with a solid foundation in digital media. Renewable Energy The efforts to grow Utah’s creative talent via digital media programs parallel similar efforts to develop the talent pool in renewable energy and international business. In the booming renewable energy industry, SLCC is leading UCAP’s effort to accelerate the number of trained professionals that will be needed in that space. For example, SLCC is working to create a statewide strategy to position Utah as a regional and national leader in energy workforce development. In 2008, the school formed the Green Academy as part of its continuing education program. The Academy offers courses in sustainability, green design and construction, and energy efficiency. Karen Gunn, SLCC assistant vice president and dean of the School of Professional and Economic Development, says over the past year the academy has trained more than 300 people in energy management, solar and alternative fuel certifications. “For a program that was initiated barely two years ago, the Green Academy has seen a lot of success,” she adds. Gunn believes SLCC is the right school to lead the training effort in renewable energy because it has “the flexibility and agility to be responsive to business and industry.” Furthermore, the school has received approximately $10 million in grants for certification and training projects for energy-related jobs in both the traditional and renewable energy sectors. A grant of approximately $2.1 million will be used to roll out statewide, consistent renewable and alternative energy training focused on four areas: green construction, energy efficiency and management, renewable energy transmission (including solar and wind), and alternative energy (including natural gas, biofuels). Down south, Dana Miller, president of the Southwest Applied Technology College (SWATC) in Cedar City, has helped form the Southern Utah Renewable Energy Center (SUTREC), a group of educational and government institutions convened to advance renewable energy education, training, research, technology and production leading to high-skill, high-wage employment, career and entrepreneurial opportunities. Miller says SUTREC has helped orchestrate three energy academies with a fourth in development. Each of the three academies has a specific area of focus and an assignment to develop curricula to be shared with other educational institutions in the state. Curricula development will focus on energy efficiency training, wind and geothermal energy development, and fossil fuel and clean coal development. What’s more, within in a year Miller expects SWATC will be training full-time students in wind, geothermal and solar power installation and maintenance via certificate programs that should articulate to degrees at other state schools. And up north, USU recently opened the new Bingham Entrepreneurship and Energy Research Center at its Uintah Basin campus in Vernal. The state-of-the-art center includes classrooms, offices and teaching labs. Research labs housed in the facility focus on hybrid energy and unconventional fuels, as well as other areas. International Business As for the international business marketplace, Utah leads the nation in export growth and has demonstrated a unique ability to connect businesses to international markets. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that Utah’s colleges and universities are heavily focused on developing a labor force with strong foundations in international business education. In fact, many of Utah’s colleges and universities offer international programs, courses and activities, as well as faculty research and training to improve international business acumen among students. For instance, last June the U.S. Department of Education awarded BYU a four-year, $1.55 million grant to continue as a Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER) school. Meanwhile, in addition to its energy-related training programs, SLCC has also made a name for itself as a center for international business training. Home to the Miller Global Business Center, the college offers an Executive Certificate in Global Management, houses the U.S. District Export Assistance Center, and is an “Ex-Im Bank City/State partner,” meaning SLCC can provide local access to information and assistance on the export finance programs of the Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank). Also of note, UVU now requires all business undergraduates to take a course called “Survey of International Business” prior to graduating with a bachelor’s degree. Further, Pres. Holland has made China a year-long focus at the school. In that regard, faculty from each of the school’s seven colleges spent two weeks in China, studying the communist system, rural education, business development and manufacturing, and laid the groundwork for future research collaboration and student exchanges in the country. “Now, more than ever, it's incumbent on universities to not only teach the fundamentals of business, but to frame those principles in a global context,” says Holland. “At UVU, this global emphasis is reflected in our student programs, our curriculum and our personnel decisions.” Martin sums up the efforts being made to innovate Utah’s educational programs and expand the number of workers with post secondary degrees and certificates, whether they be in international business, digital media, renewable energy, or any other industry, by saying “a rising tide will raise all ships.”
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