Utah Technology Council touts STEM education for Utah’s economic future

Published: Tuesday, June 18 2013 5:22 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — The long-term future of the state’s economy will hinge on Utah’s ability to develop and educate the next generation of skilled information technology professionals that will fill the growing number of high-tech jobs being produced in the Beehive State.

That's the message from the head of the state’s largest trade organization for the technology industry sector.

Richard Nelson, president and CEO of the Utah Technology Council, said challenging educators to support increased learning in science, technology, engineering and math should be high priority in order to meet the demands of Utah’s increasingly technology-based economy.

“We must do all that is necessary to get our students excited and to make them aware of the needs and the opportunities for careers in technology that emphasize STEM skills,” he told the Deseret News. “We are falling behind. Utah has many more technology jobs than we are able to fill.”

He explained that because of the state’s lack of qualified talent, local technology companies are being required to import skilled workers from out of state and some are opening offices elsewhere.

“We need to do all we can to provide a workforce here in Utah that meets the needs of industry,” Nelson said.

He noted that the number of tech companies in Utah has climbed 2.4 percent in the past 12 months, bringing with it scores of high-paying jobs and adding to the economic vitality of the state. However, if Utah is to continue its current growth trend, the state will have to produce more qualified talent from its pool of students beginning as early in the educational process as possible all the way through graduate school.

“If you want a career that will lead you to a “hot” STEM job, then the high-tech, clean-tech and life science industries are the growth engines of this state,” he said.

Currently, there are more than 4,800 companies in Utah among those three sectors alone employing thousands of Utahns, he said.

Along with the Utah Technology Council board, he is imploring leaders of Utah's education system to build a curriculum that focuses on STEM subjects that the organization believes will provide great career opportunities for years to come.

“It’s not just about graduation requirements, it’s about painting a picture of their future,” Nelson said.

More than 850 school counselors attended the 2013 Work-Based Learning Summer Conference in Heber City last week where 19 council members, who are high ranking executives in Utah technology firms, spoke on the vital role of science, technology, engineering and math.

During the event, organized in conjunction with the Utah State Office of Education, Christine Archibald, Utah Technology Council vice chairwoman and CEO of ManagementPlus, a national electronic health records company in Salt Lake City, reiterated the importance of STEM education for the healthcare industry as an example.

“Our industry is going through a greater evolution right now. … Health care is no longer just about medical care. The IT side of health care is exploding, and there is more coming,” she said. “We require many more qualified candidates for health care IT than we currently have.”

Archibald noted that tech fields — particularly in health care — present tremendous career opportunities for women as well.

Nelson said the technology council would like to see more emphasis placed on innovative teaching methods that focus on STEM, especially math. Doing so will start to give young people the opportunity to participate in the “innovation economy,” he said.

“Most of the jobs these kids are going to have haven’t been developed yet,” Nelson said. “So we need to come up with a different platform … and if we don’t change (our education curriculum) dramatically, the kids will not be qualified for the hot jobs of the future.”

Email: jlee@deseretnews.com

Twitter: JasenLee1

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