When McDonnell Douglas was preparing to open its Salt Lake operation, it wanted trained, local employees.

It turned to a little-known Utah educational program called Custom Fit, where tailor-made courses train employees for immediate job openings.In the past several years, more than 500 McDonnell Douglas employees have been trained through Custom Fit classes at its plant or Salt Lake Community College. The training is ongoing.

There is another spinoff into the Utah economy. McDonnell Douglas buys components from the Cedar City firm Metal Craft Technology.

- A fitness equipment manufacturer, Weslo, with offices in both Logan and Ogden, was offered financial enticements to relocate in California. The company decided to stay put after Custom Fit worked out a plan to train the firm's staff.

- When Lucas Western, Park City, came to Utah, the firm that manufactures gears for military aircraft hired machinists trained through Custom Fit at SLCC.

For eight years, Custom Fit has been helping new and expanding businesses by providing training at the job site, at the local Applied Technology Center or community colleges or at a combination of sites.

Annually, 250 companies with 3,800 employees use Custom Fit, which was cited by Fortune magazine as one of the biggest reasons Salt Lake City is the best city in the nation for business. Utah, through the State Board of Education, provides $2.2 million to the program.

Murray Meszaros, business/industry specialist in the Utah State Office of Education, said although 46 states offer Custom Fit, Utah is very competitive and works closely with the Department of Community and Economic Development in offering customized training to firms considering starting up here.

And to qualify for the program, Custom Fit has a minimum pay requirement: Employers must pay at least $6 per hour to the newly trained Custom Fit worker.

Custom Fit, however, is only one way that public and higher education are coordinating and collaborating to give Utah a better educated work force.

The need for vocationally and technically trained workers is recognized in both arenas of Utah education.

Public education

Bruce Griffin, associate state superintendent of public instruction, said educators know that many students need job skills when they leave high school because 30 percent of them will not go on for additional schooling.

Utah is trying to prepare students for vocational entry without discouraging them from getting a baccalaureate, Griffin said.

The state and school districts are implementing vocational plans and placement so, for example, if a student wants to be a computer numerical operator - a worker who runs the assembly-line computer that operates a robot - he can take the appropriate courses in sequence.

Griffin said the schools are also trying to establish effective links with businesses so the companies understand a student's real competencies, based on his coursework.

"Too often a high school diploma means nothing, so businesses end up hiring an employee for minimum wage," he said.

Business partnerships are also important in expanding a student's technical training options.

Public education has worked to lower the apprenticeship age to 16 so high school students can begin a work-based apprenticeship.

For individuals who want to become highly skilled in technical fields, there is the two-by-two concept. Griffin said a student receives two years of technical courses in high school to be followed by two more years of training at an ATC or community college, where the student earns an associate degree or certificate.

Higher education

Higher education is an integral part of vocational/technical education, and Rolfe Kerr, comissioner of higher education, thinks the state will do even better in the future.

"A significant element of our contribution in the 1990s will be found in the expanding enrollment of all of our

colleges and universities," Kerr said. "With the continuing support of the citizens of Utah, we will be well situated to provide the best trained work force in the nation."

Despite fears from some legislative quarters that higher education has abandoned vocational education, the State Board of Regents affirmed its commitment in an April 1989 policy.

In the next year's budget request, higher education is seeking $1.5 million to further assist the ATC role played by its community colleges. Public education is also asking for $1.275 million to aid vocational/technical education at the colleges.

Max Lowe, associate commissioner of higher education, said SLCC, for example, trained 12,000 students in its for-credit vocational courses and fast-growing noncredit vocational courses in the 189-90 academic year. That was a 37 percent increase over the previous year.

Of course, higher education also trains highly skilled workers and professionals at its four-year colleges and universities.

But perhaps what many Utahns don't realize is the number of profitable businesses that are incubated in higher education.

The University of Utah Research Park has assisted in the development of 57 companies employing 4,200 people with annual payroll of $120 million. The U. ranks third in the nation behind academic giants the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and California Institute of Technology in the number of companies spun off from research.

Utah State University has aided the development of 40 companies with 2,000 employees and an annual payroll of $36.4 million.

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(Chart)

Utah U.S.

Adults with 4 or more years of college 19.9 percent 16.2 percent

Adults with 1-3 years of college 44.1 percent 31.9 percent

High school graduates 80 percent 66.5 percent

ACT test scores 18.9 18.6

Projected increase/college enrollment in '90s 30 percent NA

Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education