Laura Seitz, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah is embarking on a long-term plan to create the workforce of tomorrow for the numerous high tech jobs that local companies have begun producing.
Prosperity 2020 business and education partners on Thursday launched an effort to establish the greater Salt Lake area as a top 10 center for technology jobs and businesses. Gov. Gary Herbert said the effort will begin with a statewide planning process to identify and build on current successes and create greater collaboration in science technology, engineering and math education.
Prosperity 2020 is a coalition of business leaders who have come together to improve Utah’s educational outcomes through investment, innovation and accountability. The key goals of the program are to have 66 percent of Utahns attain post-secondary certificates and degrees by 2020, have 90 percent of Utah elementary students be proficient in reading and math as well as help the greater Salt Lake area become a top 10 center in technology jobs and businesses.
“Great jobs and businesses start with well educated workers,” said Herbert. “By bringing industry and education together, we start recruiting tomorrow’s scientists in today’s classrooms.”
The governor noted that Utah currently has hundreds of high-paying jobs that have gone unfilled due to the lack of qualified applicants in the technology field. Part of the mission of the Prosperity 2020 plan is to develop a well-trained, homegrown workforce that can fill that employment void, he said.
The point person for the initiative will be Stan Lockhart, government relations manager for Lehi-based IM Flash. He is charged with facilitating collaboration among industry and educators to give students a strong foundation in S.T.E.M. fields.
“We are truly looking for the very best practices in the world that can improve our children’s skills with science, math, technology and engineering,” Lockhart said.
The next several months will be spent looking at business, technology and education models used in other states as well as abroad. He said the ideal scenario would be to learn the best policies and practices already in use elsewhere and implement the most successful ideas into a Utah-oriented program.
“When we get to the legislative session, we want to have a fully vetted product that has clearly defined outcomes where we have clearly defined improvements that we want to make so that our children are learning more,” he explained. “It will be a process of figuring out a logical way to proceed where we can get the right policies in place, the right curriculum, the right processes and do it in a timeline that our state can afford.”
While the state makes a push to improve education and fill the tech employment vacuum, Utah’s largest institution of higher learning announced its increasing success in cultivating new businesses.
For the second straight year, the University of Utah was No. 1 in the nation at starting companies based on research for the annual survey by the Association of University of Technology Managers. The survey ranks U.S. universities and institutions on commercialization success, including startup formation, invention disclosures, patents and technology licenses.
The report — which measured fiscal year 2010 — showed that the U. had 18 startup companies from July 1, 2009, to June 30, 2010, slightly besting MIT at 17. BYU was also among the top institutions with 13 startups, while Ivy League schools Columbia and Cornell had 12, followed by Johns Hopkins and Purdue University at 11, with Cal Tech, Carnegie Mellon and the University of Michigan all registering 10 new firms.
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