April 9, 2009

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Skills of the Trade

Utah’s Disconnect Between Education and Industry Needs

Linda T. Kennedy

April 9, 2009

Next month, thousands of high school students will wear graduation caps and gowns, receive diplomas and plan their freshmen year at Utah’s universities. But according to some state education officials and economists, only 25 percent of those students will land the high-skill, high-wage occupation they’ll work four-plus years in college to obtain. The reason, experts say, is that Utahns don’t want to accept the fast, dramatic changes the technology evolution is creating in almost every industry, and how those changes are affecting occupational skill requirements not only in Utah’s job market, but in the nation’s and the world’s. “Parent’s attitudes and perceptions greatly influence their children’s career and education choices,” observes John T. Mathews, labor market economist at the Utah Department of Workforce Services (DWS). “Parents want their kids to be successful in life. They measure [success] using the preconception that more education, notably a bachelor’s degree, will ensure their son’s or daughter’s economic survival, and with that education they, the parents, won’t have to worry about their future.” The results though, some experts say, are secondary education curriculum emphasizing college-prep courses and less vocational exposure. This leads to high school students either dropping out or entering the workforce without post-secondary education and creating a drain on the state’s economy. Dave Sorenson, executive director of the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, says manufacturing is one industry in Utah suffering from a lack of workers with the new skills of the trade. The Skill Gap “Out of the 3,900 manufacturers in the state, about 450 go out of business every year,” Sorenson says, adding that happens for a variety of reasons, including companies not having adequately trained labor or the resources to utilize improved processes and retrain their personnel. Of the 20 industry sectors that cover all aspects of Utah’s economy, manufacturing is one of the largest, employing more than 100,000 workers. Sorenson says manufacturing jobs pay 143 percent of the average wages of the other three major industries: retail, education and health care. He adds that about 10 years ago, manufacturing was approximately 12 percent of the economy. Now, as companies are closing their doors, it’s about 10 percent of the economy. “In Utah, 84 percent of our exports are manufactured goods,” says Sorenson. “The more we diminish that, the more we risk our balance of trade, which will diminish our wealth in the state.” While many of Utah’s manufacturers have 40 employees or less, Utah’s large manufacturer’s also struggle to connect new processes with skilled labor. Tom Bingham, president of Utah’s Manufacturing Association and chairman of the board of the Salt Lake Tooele Applied Technology College, says one of Utah’s top leading manufacturers (name withheld) was “very alarmed” they could not get appropriate training for skilled maintenance people. The company employs more than 2,000 people. “They said, ‘We need training now because we have realized that our entire maintenance crew could retire the same day,’” says Bingham. “With the baby boomer generation retiring soon, there is a huge deficit building in manufacturing and many other areas, especially in the middle skill areas.” Lost Opportunities Bingham says what that means to the state is lost opportunities for employing Utah workers. “The jobs are being created but we are seeking skilled workers from outside the state when we could be filling them with our own citizens if they had the skill sets.” DWS estimates between now and 2016 there will be more than 27,000 new manufacturing positions in Utah that are considered “5 Star” occupations, which yield the greatest job outlook and the best pay. Also, by training level and average wage, 79 percent of Utah jobs will not require a bachelor’s degree by the year 2016. Half of the jobs will require up to a year of on-the-job training, and more than 30 percent will be entry level positions earning under $14.30 an hour. More than 26 percent of jobs earning wages above $17.80 an hour will require either more than one year of formal on-the-job training (which is where Mathews says most of the high-skilled positions in manufacturing exists), work experience (the managerial and supervisory roles), applied technical certificates or associate’s degrees. Jobs requiring bachelor’s degrees and earning wages above $22.80 an hour will comprise about 20 percent of Utah’s labor market. Twenty-eight percent of Utahns have bachelor’s degrees or higher (Master’s, PhD). “The perception of the factory floor, machinery and blue collar jobs that parents assign to the manufacturing setting is not what parents deem a palatable option for their kids,” says Mathews. “Some manufacturing settings fit this description, but many do not. The challenge is to provide families and career decision makers with the information to make informed work/life decisions.” As far as the decision makers who influence Utah’s secondary and post-secondary education curriculum, there is quite a disparity regarding what is considered an occupation and a career. And while all educators agree technical training is crucial for a high-school graduate’s success, they differ in exactly which track students should take to get it. From Biscuits and Wood Blocks Mary Shumway, director of Career and Technical Education (CTE) with the Utah State Office of Education, is responsible for the junior and high school curriculum that used to be called “vocational education.” She is also responsible for ensuring that all CTE programs, including those in higher education, are meeting the requirements of high-wage, high-demand jobs with specific outcomes. “Up until 1987 all boys in seventh grade took industrial arts or shop and all girls took home economics,” says Shumway. “The curriculum was narrow and did not expose students to all careers and the world of work. Also, the obvious problem with this model was that boys and girls were separated into specific courses.” Now, seventh grade boys and girls are required to take a course exposing them to numerous industries in classrooms like the one at the end of Evergreen Jr. High School’s “Responsibility Hall.” CTE instructor Ron Kleyweg discusses jobs and career options in various industries, including manufacturing. “I have the kids do a page on Utah apprenticeship programs,” he says. “Now that is extremely under advertised. Look at an electrician. If you can get on an apprenticeship program, they start these guys at 50 percent of what a journeyman makes while they’re training—now what kind of a deal is that? You don’t have out-of-money pocket expenses to go to college, you don’t have student loans to pay back, it’s good for manufacturing, they’ve got all those programs there, all you have to have is a high school diploma and a GED.” Students look at www.utahtraining.org and www.uejatc.org and outline information including how much they’ll get paid through five to 10 years of training, and Kleyweg says the programs often include health benefits. When students enter ninth grade at Evergreen, they start considering their high school requirements and electives, and have the opportunity to work with Ron Bailey, Olympus High School’s career counselor and CTE coordinator. Since he has been in education for 38 years as a teacher and counselor, he has a then-and-now perspective about Utah’s education system and how it matches with today’s technology needs. He helps students develop the required Student Education Occupation Plan (SEOP), designed to help them choose a CTE course that is consistent with their goals and plans. Three years ago, the CTE High School to College and Careers Pathway initiative was established so students can take CTE courses in high school toward college credit. “We place emphasis on specific pathways that are in high demand, high wage through DWS data and we also look at the occupations that the Governor’s Office of Economic Development are promoting,” says Shumway. But Bailey says the old academic molds haven’t been broken, yet. “There is a mind set that the vocational jobs and education led to blue collar work—the dirty, grimy, heavy grunt work and those people were low on the pecking order and it wasn’t an attractive way to go,” he says. “But the people that were really conscious about high pay, high status, the clean type work—they went toward the professions, not the vocational stuff, because that was low type of work in their opinion,” he says, adding that was his belief too. “Then the paradigm shift took place in my mind five years ago as I was going to national conferences and listening to cutting edge presenters,” he says. “I was reading the literature about how the real world has changed and we’ve made the move from industrial age to information age and it hit me how all of this has changed and what the working world is like now.” Now Bailey says Utah, and the nation, is competing with many countries whose educational standards in some areas are higher than ours. He visited schools in China last summer and talked with students and educators. “I know what’s going on over there and it is scary to see what’s happening in China and some of these other countries and compare that with what is going on in this country.” The Post-Secondary Carrot Utah State Education Commissioner Bill Sederburg agrees Utah needs a skilled workforce to be competitive in the global economy. But he doesn’t believe giving secondary students two possible tracks—a career or a college track—is the answer. Rather, he believes a rigorous academic track for all students, emphasizing basic skills such as math and writing, is still necessary for students pursuing any work after high school. “No matter whether you want to be a plumber, I think that plumber should be able to read and write and compute, and if he’s going to be successful in business he needs to have some of those basic skills,” says Sederburg. “I think there is this dualism argument that pops up every once in a while in Utah that is not a correct statement of how to be competitive in the future. I would even support replacing a lot of the career stuff with more academic rigor.” Shumway says in 2006, high school graduation requirements were changed for the class of 2011; students are required to take more math, science and language arts and have less time for electives. “The debate today still goes on with business and industry because they come into my office and plead with me to help train more students in their particular industry, but students have limited electives to focus on specific careers in high school.” Her solution: redesigning what she calls an education “carrot”—the Utah State Board of Regents scholarship that Shumway says motivates students to take the prescribed courses, including foreign languages and Advanced Placement (AP) courses without thought to individual education and career goals. Shumway says in Indiana (the largest manufacturing state in the country, according to Bingham) students can choose the foreign language and AP courses or a concentration of three or more CTE courses in a specific pathway. “So, there is an incentive [the scholarship] for students to seek a technical pathway.” A New Kind of Campus In Utah, Bingham has solved the large local manufacturer’s deficit of skilled maintenance people with the “Custom Fit” program funded by the State Legislature. With Custom Fit, companies outline what skills they need and training is done on-site. Now two dozen interns are working summers at the facility and will have jobs when they certify their skills. In the meantime, Jared Haines, vice president of instruction and student services at the Utah College of Applied Technology (UCAT), says enrollment has increased 20 percent over the last four years. And since the start of the recession, there is a jump in those with previous college education. “The counselors on one campus indicated that in year’s past they usually saw about eight to 12 students enroll each year who already have a degree,” he says. “That number has gone up this year to approximately 15 to 18 students for about a 50 percent increase.” Experienced welders and students interested in entering the field will have new opportunities at the Ogden Weber Applied Technology College (OWATC). In January, The U.S. Department of Labor awarded the college a $1,000,000 grant for the enhancement of the college’s welding program under the Community Based Job Training Grant (CBJTG) initiative. The funding will provide tuition, books, supplies and fees for students seeking upgrade training and program certification. Also, in March of this year, OWATC announced the Utah State Legislature awarded the college more than $21 million to construct a new health technology building to address the critical regional and national shortage of health care professionals. For high school curriculum’s future, Sederburg says he is also impressed with the Indiana model and believes Utah should adopt something similar to it, and align the Career Pathways program with promoting at least two years of college. “We need to align our advising and placement activities correctly for our students and give them some assistance in careers, not jobs-but careers, and those careers are going to require more than a high school degree.” With new classes such as bio-manufacturing—where students can learn about medical devices, pharmaceuticals and bio-fuel alternatives—being offered for the first time next year at Olympus High School, Evergreen decided to offer a career night to all ninth grade students and parents. Thirty attendees showed up for Bailey’s presentation. Carma Barnhart, a counselor at Evergreen, says when Bailey started presenting data about today’s job market and post-secondary education, most of the group left the presentation. “It was quite embarrassing,” she says. “Our reaction to that was that we presented something that wasn’t wanted. They just seemed interested in the requirements for next year.” Two-hundred and thirty-eight students are entering 9th grade next year, at Evergreen Jr. High School.
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