Shutterstock
Last year, the Utah Cluster Acceleration Partnership used more than $2 million to help establish 25 new certificate or degree curriculums, expand capacity for six existing programs and support three economic development projects.

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s thriving economy created thousands of jobs last year, and a state effort to fuel a pipeline with future applicants is adding hundreds of potential new employees each year.

Last year, the Utah Cluster Acceleration Partnership used more than $2 million to help establish 25 new certificate or degree curriculums, expand capacity for six existing programs and support three economic development projects that create 875 new training slots yearly.

The partnership is a collaboration between the state Department of Workforce Services, the Utah System of Higher Education and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. The three agencies worked cooperatively to approve grant applications with the goal of developing a pipeline from classroom to workplace with the support of local education institutions and employers.

“This program is designed to help meet the needs in the economy,” explained DWS spokesman Nic Dunn. “You have the private sector demonstrating the need for a workforce with certain talents along with education institutions to help meet that demand.”

In 2009, DWS, the Utah System of Higher Education and GOED partnered together to create the Utah Cluster Acceleration Partnership. The partnership was designed to help strengthen the alliance between industry needs and educational programs by convening industry groups, Dunn said.

“This is workforce alignment at its best,” said Jon Pierpont, executive director of the Utah Department of Workforce Services. “We are targeting key sectors where private employers have a workforce need, and helping educators align their outcomes to the economic demand.”

A recently released annual report noted that $2 million in direct funding was supplemented by $3.3 million in leveraged funds, leading to the creation of 875 new training slots each year that equip Utahns with skills in high-demand, growing fields, Dunn explained.

Often, the skills taught in these programs are directly related to growth clusters as defined by the GOED, he said. This program helps to better align classroom training directly with industry needs, and is contributing to the governor’s 66 percent by 2020 initiative.

The plan targets a state goal of 66 percent of all working-age Utahns attaining a postsecondary degree or certificate by the year 2020.

In 2014, grant amounts ranged from $18,000 to $250,000 and were distributed among various institutions, including applied technology colleges, trade organizations and traditional universities.

Among those who benefited from the grant funding was West Point resident Brady Teasdale, 27, a student at Davis Applied Technology College. After initially enrolling in the industrial automation curriculum, he was encouraged by a counselor to consider the injection-molding program.

“I just felt like it was an area that sparked more of my interest,” he explained. “You learn how to operate and program machines. I felt like it was (better) for me (career-wise).”

For the past few years, Teasdale has worked as a custodian for the Davis School District, but expects to complete the first of up to two available certificate programs in June. He said having the specialized training now gives him confidence about his long-term career prospects.

“I’m pretty optimistic,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of companies hiring and I just think the job market is going to continue to grow.”

Email: jlee@deseretnews.com, Twitter: JasenLee1