April 17, 2014

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Weber, Davis County Leaders Discuss Importance of Education for Local Workforce

By Rachel Madison

April 17, 2014

More than 30 community leaders from Weber and Davis counties gathered together Wednesday during Utah Business’ annual Weber/Davis Regional Roundtable to discuss the area’s economy and how its different industries, such as healthcare, banking and commercial real estate, are faring. The conversation turned frequently to the importance of education, specifically because of the need of a well-trained workforce to support the area’s top industries of aerospace and composite manufacturing.

Darren Rogers, a program specialist at the Department of Workforce Services, said through his organization there are currently 80,000 active job seekers in Utah—and about 30,000 of those reside in Weber, Davis and Morgan counties. Educational opportunities are plentiful in the area, which is a good sign for the future workforce. This spring, Weber State University alone will graduate nearly 5,000 students.

Brad Mortensen, vice president of university advancement at WSU, said the school serves a unique role in trying to meet the workforce needs in both Weber and Davis counties. In Davis County, WSU just opened a new building on that campus to extend its program to help support Hill Air Force Base as well as aerospace manufacturing businesses.

“We were also funded this past legislative session $57.5 million to open a new science building on campus,” he said. The university plans to break ground in May and have the building completed by fall 2016. “It will be a gem to attract students into STEM areas,” he said.

WSU is also an outreach center for USTAR and has a Utah Center for Aeronautical Innovation and Design in Farmington. “We do a lot of applied research projects to support the aerospace industry,” Mortensen said.

Jim Taggart, vice president of instruction at the Ogden-Weber Applied Technology College, said the ATC has seen a resounding need for workforce development in the composite manufacturing area, especially because organizations like HAFB, ATK, Boeing, Enve and ITT Exelis are major employers in the area.

“We decided as a tech college to make an investment to meet those needs for those employers,” he said. “We are seeing tremendous growth in the composites program and those that support manufacturing, like machining, advanced welding and industrial automation.”

Jim Smith, president and CEO of the Davis Chamber of Commerce, said through the Davis ATC, many people have been able to get jobs at HAFB. “Hill Air Force Base is still a growth area,” he said. “People don’t realize that. We’re excited about the wedding between the ATCs and Weber State and what that means to our community.”

Besides traditional educational programs, Rogers said the DWS is developing a work-ready communities initiative, where people can take a series of exams that denote if they have the aptitude to be proficient in certain careers, which will earn them certification.

“We’re working with employers to recognize that certification,” he said. “It just raises the level of ability to work.”

Jeff Edwards, president and CEO of EDCUtah, said although Utah’s IT sector might be concentrated in the central portion of the state, its mass materials sector is definitely up north.

The healthcare industry is another major employer in the Weber and Davis county areas. Dave Hardman, president and CEO of the Ogden/Weber Chamber of Commerce, said about 17 percent of the area’s workforce works in healthcare. Tim Pehrson, CEO of McKay-Dee Hospital, said the hospital partners with WSU and the local ATCs to find healthcare professionals.

“When there was a huge nursing shortage [nationally] five or six years ago, we never experienced that because of our great connection,” Pehrson said. “We’re able to educate and train students here.”

Chris Williams, community relations director for Davis School District, said the workforce training starts in high school. At Davis High School, there’s a teacher whose students have a 100 percent pass rate on the AP Statistics test, and at Layton High School, there’s a teacher who is sending nearly a dozen students to a national engineering competition—the most students in the state.

“Are we training our students for STEM and the real world?” Williams said. “There’s no question. We are.”

Hardman said the Weber and Davis areas have a tremendous opportunity as well as a great frustration because there are so many companies in the community that can’t get enough high-tech workers to come on board.

“The reality is we do have a demand and we appreciate that our education leaders are working to produce [the workforce],” he said.

Many participants also agreed that without several partnerships between businesses, educational facilities, Hill Air Force Base, and the cities and counties, the area wouldn’t be as well off as it is economically.

The roundtable was held at McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden and was moderated by Hardman. The Weber/Davis Regional Roundtable will appear in the June issue of Utah Business.

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