The State Board of Education will seek up to $100,000 to study ways to house burgeoning vocational/technical programs that will be even more burdened as high schools begin to emphasize job readiness.

The board accepted a recommendation of a Vocational Liaison subcommittee Friday. The subcommittee suggested a statewide assessment of the state's area applied technology centers and other non-degree training facilities.Funds may be available through the state Division of Facilities Construction and Management, said M. Richard Maxfield, liaison between the State Office of Education and the technology centers. The division has no planning money for the upcoming year but does have some funds for studies, he said.

The division functions on a four- to five-year cycle that would put the technology centers in line for expansion at a time when even greater demands are put on them, he said.

Student populations for the ATCs, located in Richfield, Logan, Roosevelt, Kaysville and Ogden, have increased 21.5 percent annually, but funding has increased only 6.3 percent, said Superintendent Brent Wallace of the Ogden/Weber center. With inflation factored in, the annual increase has been less than 2 percent.

In recent years, money has gone into program expansion and the centers now need to upgrade training equipment and facilities to remain on the cutting edge of technology, said Superintendent Jack Shell of the Davis ATC.

The state board is re-emphasizing the role of vocational/technical education and proposing that high school students be encouraged to do some career planning before graduation. A nine-district consortium is planning pilot programs that are expected to create additional pressures on the ATCs.

Of the 22,670 students who underwent training at the area centers in 1990, approximately 5,000 were high school students and 17,000 adult students, said Chad Campbell, acting superintendent at Bridgerland center in Logan. More high school students will be urged to get vocational technical training while still in public schools so they will be ready for jobs upon graduation.

In addition, there is increasing demand from business and industry for job-ready employees. Many of them are specifically trained through the Custom Fit program that is operated largely by the ATCs. Having a pool of skilled workers is a major consideration for businesses contemplating coming to Utah.

"Our system is responsive. We can respond in days - even hours - to meet industry needs," said Shell. The placement record at the ATCs is greater than 90 percent as students complete training and go into the job market, he said. The training centers offer open entry-open exit options in many areas of training.

"You haven't seen anything yet," said Shell. "We have ahead of us some major needs that we're just beginning to face."

Board member Frances Hatch Merrill said it is "devastating that our system fails to prepare high school graduates for work."

The push for more vocational/-technical preparation, however, is relatively new, said Board President Neola Brown. "The philosophy has changed. The world is changing. We can't move fast enough to keep up with these societal changes."