Industry Outlook: Education
The watchwords in education right now are collaboration, alignment and innovation. Here, education and industry leaders talk about how Utah’s educational system is transforming to align student competencies with industry needs.
Todd Bingham, Utah Manufacturers Association
Rick Bouillon, Salt Lake Community College
Blair Carruth, Utah System of Higher Education
Clay Christensen, Mountainland Technical College
Laura deShazo, Utah State Board of Education
Kenneth Grover, Salt Lake City School District
John Harrington, Holland & Hart, LLP
Frank Lojko, Dixie State University
Carrie Mayne, Department of Workforce Services
Brian Olmstead, Utah State Board of Education
Abby Osborne, Salt Lake Chamber
Robert Peterson, Uintah Basin Technical College
Jason Skidmore, Jordan School District
Melisa Stark, Department of Workforce Services
James Taylor, Granite School District
Robert Wagner, Utah State University
Karsten Walker, Alpine School District
Matt Wardle, JD Machine Corp
Terryl Warner, Utah State Board of Education
Gary Wixom, Utah Valley University
Kim Ziebarth, Davis Technical College
Let’s start out by talking about alignment and what your organizations are doing in that regard.
BOUILLON: The Utah Aerospace Pathways is a good example. The alignment really for SLCC isn’t just with us and our Wasatch Front South Consortium partners. It really goes even higher. It starts with the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and the Division of Workforce Services, and our educational partners through USHE, through the Utah tech colleges.
The alignment had to be from a curriculum standpoint that fed the high school students, the secondary students into the post-secondary if they chose. And then also for our under-employed adults to get them through the system, get them some short-term training and into the workforce, in this case aerospace manufacturing. If everyone comes to the table, then the alignment is there and the chance for success goes up.
CARRUTH: Back in 2009, USHE received some funds and partnerships with GOED and DWS to start what has been called the Utah Cluster Acceleration Partnership. That partnership has grown and morphed over the years. Today it’s a very successful program housed with DWS. It’s called Talent Ready Utah. Part of the goal of that was to develop new cutting-edge programs designed through industry input that would link our higher ed institutions into programs that are very meaningful and cutting edge, responding to the direct needs of industry. And that’s been a very successful program.
Another thing is there’s a policy called R 473 that allows for articulation between our USHE institutions and the Utah Technical Colleges. We have some good articulation now with many of the UTC programs around the state with many of our institutions through that process.
WAGNER: Because Utah State University is the land grant institution for the state, we have a presence across the state, and we have been able to partner our local regional campuses with the technology colleges and actually work hard to establish the stackable pathways, where they can work on a credential at a technical college that can then move quickly into a certificate, into an associate’s degree, into a bachelor’s degree, and right into a master’s degree. Those stackable credentials are very efficient and very worthwhile for students.
BINGHAM: I’m seeing a transition to where industry is much more involved in that alignment process, helping define those careers that have marketplace relevance—meaning we are putting those kids out at the end of the line with a training certificate or a college degree or a university four-year degree that makes them immediately marketable to an employer.
We have a UCAP grant. We are involved with Talent Ready. For instance, last year at this time there were about 900 students in the state enrolled in manufacturing programs. Think about that for a second. We have 3,600 manufacturing companies in the state and 900 students involved in manufacturing types of training. We instituted a program through Talent Ready. In a six-month period, we will end up with probably 500 new enrollees in manufacturing programs. Now, the overall numbers don’t sound fabulous but the percentage is pretty impressive. Industry is really excited about employer engagement and continuing to inform kids that there are careers ready for them and that industries are willing to help them participate.
ZIEBARTH: Davis Technical College has expanded our agreements with high schools. We have almost 100 courses that are articulated. Our goal is to reduce the duplication of course work. When students come to us, we evaluate what they have taken. We give them credit for whatever course they have completed toward our certificate. From this we want to build onto their skills and hopefully help the student to become employable. It’s our goal that the student can make a wage that will help them continue their education.
The pathways on the other end are just as important. We have 75 courses that are individually articulated at Weber State University. We have the Associates of Life Science degree, where a student can complete one year at the technical college and then get one additional year of general education to get that degree. And then we have six degrees that feed into individual associate degree programs.
One size doesn’t fit all. And we do happen to have a Utah State University extension campus in Kaysville just a couple of blocks away from our campus. That provides an opportunity for students who are interested in attending or who already have a few credits to build on to what they already have. We want to keep the doors open. Working with any institution the student feels is a good fit for them is our goal.
SKIDMORE: What I’m seeing at Jordan School District is there’s a greater connection, an alignment of industry partners that are looking for opportunities to connect with students at a younger age. Maybe not necessarily to build a pipeline but to plant a seed, create an alignment that allows students to move forward.
We are fortunate in our school district to have two technical centers where we offer some fairly advanced training for students across many areas. We have a diesel program that aligns with the diesel pathway. We have added a welding program because we have seen the need of our manufacturers. Students at a younger age are becoming ready and are developing the skills they need to build those credentials that will prepare them. So I see that alignment happening much earlier than maybe it did before.
WARDLE: I’m with JD Machine in Ogden. We employ about 180 people. We are a machining and fabrication supplier of development to ATK and companies like that. Our main barrier to growth is skilled workforce. A number of years ago we banded together as a group of machine shops and said, “What are we going to do to fix this?” And we approached the UCAP and received grant funding to put together a program that would attract people into machining as a trade and help employers develop apprenticeships.
And this program was quite successful. We received a lot of applicants, and it’s ongoing through a small trade association. We have hosted tours for high school students, even junior high school students, Scout groups—kind of opened the doors so people could see that these are good, high-paying jobs.
The stackable credentials are available. The four-year apprenticeship through the Department of Labor has value. It’s a certificate. And there’s an articulation with Weber State University for an Associates of Applied Technology in apprenticeship. Some of my employees that have gone through our apprenticeship go to Weber State and receive a manufacturing technology degree.
I wouldn’t say we fixed the problem for the skills gap, but we are going in the right direction. The united approach between industry and education and government is happening, and we are hoping to expand on that.
GROVER: At Salt Lake City School District, one of the unique pieces we have is our Innovations Early College High School, where we’ve tried to clear out all of the course work that is not necessarily as relevant to some students as it might be. We’ve used the legislation that we brought to bear about three years ago called the Fit Education. The idea is that students can move through their curriculum at a faster pace if they need to, and take things that are more attractive to them.
We are a magnet school within Salt Lake School District, and we are housed with SLCC. They have been a tremendous partner. And the reason it has been such a valuable partnership is because when you walk into the facility there aren’t any barriers, visual or otherwise, to a high school student to see that they couldn’t be in the college immediately. Salt Lake City School District is working with first-generation students who have never contemplated college—their parents never finished high school or a degree. So it’s an exposure to something that is far greater than what they expect. And they are surprised at what they can accomplish.
We work to get them into college classes by their 10th-grade year, and not with the intent of them achieving a doctoral degree or master’s degree. But sometimes they realize there’s a lot of opportunities out there that don’t entail a four-year degree, but maybe a two-year degree. So we try to get them further down the path of what would interest them, and also meet the industry needs at the same time.
PETERSON: The alignment in Roosevelt and Vernal is superb because you have the high school, technical college and the universities right there. But especially at Uinta High School with over 1,500 students, their counselors are overwhelmed with 300 or 400 kids apiece. Much as we showcase our programs both at USU and UV Tech, they are still inundated with information. So we are trying to help with the articulation of the courses and the pathways to help inform them and bring the parents into the meeting space. Bottom line is the students are going to be conditioned upon what the parents tell them to do.
But I think the counselors appreciated us coming to them more often so students could see the articulation from the high school into the certificate program and into the degree program. So we gave them handouts for when they visit with students, they see the articulation. What do you want to be? What’s a pathway for high school? Do you know that it lines up with a certificate? So physical instruments are very helpful to them, as well.
We are talking about pathways, we are talking about stackable credentials. We have CTE pathways that are in the high school, but then we also have some very specific pathways programs like diesel mechanics or the aerospace pathway program. Can you give us a little context on what we mean when we are talking about pathways in the high school setting with public education, for example?
OLMSTEAD: A career pathway really is a sequence of courses between secondary and post-secondary. It’s probably a little false to say you’ve completed your pathway at the end of your senior year of high school, because the reality is it’s what you do next that is going to make the difference. So a pathway should be secondary to post- secondary, in all of its different forms—certificates, degrees of all sorts. Also, a great thing a pathway should have, and it’s a difficult one, is a work-based learning experience. The most important thing we are trying to get to is a pathway that culminates in a credential of value. And that might be many stages of stackable credentials on that path.
PYFER: In Utah, the average graduation rate among our high schools is 85 percent. But if you are a student who is a CTE concentrator—so you’ve completed maybe half of a pathways program—if you are one of those students, your graduation rate is 96.6 percent. So as we are looking at ways to increase the graduation rate, one of the big pieces of that puzzle is right there in front of us: CTE courses in high school. Similar things can be said of students that take concurrent enrollment, AP classes or baccalaureate classes. But particularly CTE really makes a difference in our high school graduation rate.
WARNER: I’m currently the vice chair of the State Board of Education. We decided to look at the graduation requirements. A lot of the students that graduate from high school in Rich County go through a CTE program. Bridgerland Technical College has a partnership with Rich County and they have a campus on Rich High School grounds.
One of the things we hear from parents is that because we have so many requirements in high school, kids are not able to follow a technical pathway. They have a hard time meeting the needs of those graduation requirements and trying to fill the requirements for a technical program. So we are reviewing those graduation requirements, and we have had a lot of input and we are looking at giving a lot more flexibility to parents and students for choosing what they would like to take.
We have brought all the stakeholders together. We are looking at math, science, language arts, and social studies, and allowing more flexibility with everything else. And not having the Carnegie units attached: four units of language arts or three units of math. Allowing students and parents a little bit more flexibility. If anybody has any comment, we are going to be opening a survey on that. Not every student wants to go to college for four years. And so this will allow students to have some flexibility in determining if they want to take the CTE approach.
Let’s talk about what competency-based education looks like in our educational institutions, and how it connects to the competencies that our business and industry partners are looking for.
ZIEBARTH: So many people bring prior knowledge, skill, experience and education. And we value it. And adult learners, in particular, want us to value it. So it’s giving them an expedited pathway to reduce the duplication of course work and give students the opportunity to fill in the blanks where they need to.
As far as relevance in connection with industry, we have 33 programs at our campus. And we are required by accreditors to have three employer advisory committee members for each program, for a total of 99. But rather than having 99, we have 350. We have employers on our campus every day. And the mentoring that goes on, working one-on-one with the instructors and with those students, is making a big difference. That presence is absolutely critical.
Our curriculum is written in a format that is very explicit, step-by-step instructions. And students go through it pretty independently. But there’s a lot of interactive engagement in the learning process. Students have to complete labs and other hands-on activities. We are skill-based institutions so we are ideally suited for competency-based education.
BOUILLON: A couple years ago, Salt Lake Community College received a federal grant to take 20 programs in our school of applied technology and change them over to competency based. When a student comes in, they have a certain base level of knowledge, some higher than others. In the past, time was always the constant, and learning was the variable. The beauty of competency based is time is now the variable and learning is the constant.
So if a student is successful in half the amount of time that it typically would take, they can get those competencies and move on. They have the ability to take those credentials and stack them and get into an employment situation. Our programs, as well, are guided by our program advisory committees. We have the curriculum evaluated by industry professionals as well as education professionals, and then of course our partners through K-12 as well. The programs are juried each and every year so we can meet the needs of industry.
SKIDMORE: The challenge we see is the factor that everybody gets held up on: How do you determine they are competent? Who determines that? We are very tied to making sure they have sat in seats for long enough time, but who determines how that time is spent and how it should be spent? That’s a mind shift that needs to happen in order for more competency based to take hold at the secondary level.
CHRISTENSEN: The other thing is we need to ensure that those competencies are business and industry validated and that they are heading the right direction. We have a partnership with Xactware; we hire their programmers to come and teach part of the program. But the other thing is the curriculum is changing so quickly, every two to three weeks they are tweaking it to keep up with what is happening. We find that in manufacturing and the healthcare area, as well. So it’s imperative that business and industries are involved in those advisory committees, that we have the right people there and it’s infiltrated, and we work with all three of those systems.
PYFER: People miss the financial savings to families. When you’ve got a high school student that is taking advantage of the technical college classes for free, just as part of their day, and they are getting certificates, and sometimes early college high schools are getting associates degrees, they are saving tens of thousands of dollars of higher ed dollars. And it’s not that we’re ending a student’s educational progression if they get a certificate or a two-year degree. Often that’s just one step along the way, and we are seeing industry partners, like Boeing, step up and say, “Come to us with a certification and we will pay for your degree.” I’m seeing that more and more.
MAYNE: We need to acknowledge the alignment that does occur and how well we are doing. Our economy attests to that. The fact that we have had unemployment at or below 4 percent for close to three years now, and while we may have skills gaps in some areas, we don’t have an overarching problem. On top of that, not only are we keeping unemployment low, we continue to add jobs. People looking from the outside would look at low unemployment like that and say at some point the constriction in that labor market is going to choke off their growth and they will stop adding jobs. We have not done that. In fact, we have been number one more often than not in adding jobs. So the macro outlook shows that we are getting it right. We ought to acknowledge what we are doing right and simply continue to enhance those partnerships so that we can continue on this path.
TAYLOR: There are some barriers we need to address if we are really going to pursue competency-based education. It’s an easy thing to adopt in philosophy, but right now in secondary education our funding is based on seat time. So when we say that time is the variable, well, that is going to require some changes in funding structures. Scholarships and grading and all those types of things are very much tied to a traditional model of so many hours in a class earns you so many credits, which translates into graduation requirements and all those kinds of things. So as great as competency-based education or performance- based education is and sounds, there are some elephants in the room that need to be addressed before we can really move on it.
OLMSTEAD: The ultimate CTE experience is a student has a course, then they go and have an internship experience, a work- based learning experience with an employer. It’s learning about that career, that industry sector—as an employee comes into a company and works their way through, that intern should hopefully see that same process and the steps, and the potential that they might have in that business or industry.
Work-based learning is going to be difficult to scale, however, with the number of employers. We have a lot of work-based learning opportunities. But if you think of just doubling that, it takes twice the number of employees, twice the number of positions. And we need to 10 times it. We need to 20 times it.
STARK: Really, what makes our pathways programs—aerospace, medical and diesel tech—successful are the work-based learning opportunities. Our industry partners are providing opportunities for students and for teachers to get the real-world outlook and apply the skills that the students are learning in the classroom to the real world.
There are so many different opportunities and programs. How do we get the message out to parents in particular about all of the different opportunities that we have for our kids through CTE?
OSBORNE: We are doing the 25,000-job tour in rural Utah. And it is amazing to us the lack of understanding and knowledge that even elected officials have in rural Utah. And imagine what parents don’t know. So just getting the data from DWS that says, “Here is this industry. Here’s how much of a job gap there is.” And giving that information to parents: “Here is an industry. Here is a pathway.”
My vision, sitting on the core team at Talent Ready Utah, is that’s what Talent Ready should be. Here is all the information that DWS has, and here are all the different opportunities you can have as a student and as a parent to push your student into the right pathways. You hear students that are getting the four-year degree and $100,000 in debt and they have a degree that doesn’t land them a job, and now they have to go out and seek further education to end up in a job. We can do better than that. What we are trying to instill is “go out and find where there’s opportunities and where there’s needs, and then direct yourself to those opportunities.”
WIXOM: Many of the programs represented around this table have a hard time attracting students because of that perception problem. Parents don’t necessarily want their students to go into a manufacturing program. In their mind that’s Geneva Steel, not the kind of advanced manufacturing that’s going on today. We need to work on eliminating that perception. The career and technical education today is something that will provide their children opportunities and a pathway not only to a livable wage but then the opportunity to move on in education, as well.
BINGHAM: Today’s generation has no concept of what manufacturing is. These parents don’t know what manufacturing is. So we embarked on an initiative to try and do one simple thing, which was to enhance the image of manufacturing and encourage kids to look at a career in an industry that wants and needs them. It’s called Explore MFG. By the end of the campaign we will get to probably 750,000 19- to 27-year-olds across the state with a simple message about exploring manufacturing and looking at it as a career.
What innovative things are happening in your schools or industries? And what are some of the barriers to more innovation, and/or what can we continue to do better?
LOJKO: A couple years ago we got funding to purchase some land that had an elementary school on it. We are converting that school into an innovation plaza. We are going to put a charter-type school in there that’s going to be focused on STEM and engineering and computers. We are putting our teacher learning program in, we are changing the paradigm of instruction in the college classroom to active learning, active life, so it’s more of solving problems than based on lectures.
We have already started off in getting students involved in doing programs. We have 25 paths submitted. Just over a semester involving community, faculty and students, which is quite an accomplishment. So we are looking at changing the direction and how we are doing instruction and how we can engage with community and with businesses.
WALKER: Innovation is tough, because while it is happening in pockets or in certain teachers’ classrooms, how do you scale it? How do you advertise and market that information to parents and students?
I have 80 to 90 kids a year, about 40 to 45 a semester. But thinking about how to scale that to the 300 or 400 seniors so every senior has some kind of work experience—there’s currently not enough innovative companies that want to or can provide opportunities for students. So it’s really thinking through does it have to be a semester class that’s so many hours, or could we do some job shadowing? Could we do some other kind of out-of-the-box thinking to provide work experience, perhaps even summer experiences to students to engage them in these pathways? Not just for school credit but also just for introduction to those pathways.
DESHAZO: I want to share an innovation success story. Five years ago, we had a legislative allocation to implement some certificates in IT and in specific Microsoft Office Specialists, Microsoft Technology Associates, Adobe certificates, QuickBooks and a new entrepreneurship in small business certificate.
We have been able to deploy this in 205 schools, ninth through 12th grade. The areas that I have been able to incorporate these certifications in are technology, entrepreneurship, banking and finance, travel and tourism, advertising and marketing, commercial real estate—any entry-level student that takes a computer course in our schools has the opportunity to take these certifications, although it depends really on the teacher.
Washington County School District has jumped on board with this. And they are certifying over 4,000 students a year in all of these areas. They are looking at adding some of the Adobe certifications. The Microsoft Imagine academy was the first initiative behind deploying the certifications. It’s also a program in which teachers can be certified. So it isn’t student directed only. It is directed for the educators to become certified, as well. We are giving them the opportunity to up the ante in their classroom.
It also gives students an employability skill to go and obtain an entry-level position, maybe while they are going on to get their two-year or four-year certificate. Because the number one needed skill is Excel right now.
ZIEBARTH: We have a technical charter school on our campus and 85 percent of their juniors and seniors were involved in the program. So they were graduating with technical industry credentials and a high school diploma. They are eligible to participate in the academic agreements that allow them to transfer course work.
I walked into our composites lab a couple weeks ago. We had Nike there, Space X was there, the University of Utah was there using some of our equipment. And we had a guy that invented a machine that is like an autoclave, but it’s like a microwave oven. It expedites the processing time. And it’s fascinating to see industry and education and all of these entities together along with our high school students that are participating in the aerospace pathways. It’s a very diverse classroom and it’s just exciting to see that happen.
SKIDMORE: One thing we have done in our district to find and train great teachers is we look to our industry. I put my kudos out to Landesk, which is now Ivanti. We did not have any computer science, computer or IT teachers in the district of 55,000 students. We found out that they offer 16 hours of community service to all of their employees. And only 30 percent of their employees tapped that benefit from the company. The others were not using it. So we challenged Landesk at the time to utilize those 70 percent. And they gave us five employees to teach computer science using that pool of hours that was going untouched. And they taught eight students for one semester.
During that same time, they retrained some of our math teachers, some of our business teachers—teachers that were already invested in teaching as a career. They were going to leave and become computer programmers. Seven teachers went through their boot camp and became qualified and certified. And today we have computer classes for more than 600 students, and that all took place in just a year and a half. It was a resource that was available, the industry already had it. It was just going untouched.
And so when we talk about a collaborative effort, sometimes it’s just looking at where we are missing the boat. We didn’t need a lot of equipment. We just needed a knowledgeable person to help us along the way. I think there are other opportunities like that where we can extend that challenge as we look at the teacher shortage.