Utah has ample university-trained professionals and a good pool of workers to fill low-skill, entry-level jobs - and a big gap in between.
It's one of Utah's ironies, according to a report by the Utah Council on Vocational-Technical Education, that the state enjoys a low unemployment rate (4 percent unemployment in February this year) but falls well below national wage averages and per capita income."Wages earned by Utah workers are so low that the impact of virtually full employment is not enough to make our economy boom," the council report said. The report was discussed and adopted during a meeting Wednesday in the Salt Lake Community College.
During 1988, more than 20,000 new jobs were easily filled, but the state needs more higher-skilled, higher-paying jobs if major economic improvement is to take place, the report says. Those are the jobs that are created in the vocational-technical fields, council members said.
In 1987, Utah workers earned only 87.8 percent of the national average and only 73 percent of the per capita average. The figures appear low because of Utah's larger families and more one-income households, said Jack C. Higbee, council executive, but also indicate a comparatively large number of low-paying jobs.
An increase in jobs at the technician level - higher than service-related jobs and lower than professional jobs - would "make a major difference in Utah's economy," the report says.
The potential for these types of jobs in Utah over the next few years has jumped with the arrival of new aerospace companies and the prospects for more industry in this vein, Higbee said.
Utah's emphasis on college education exacerbates the problem. High school students avoid vocational-technical classes, then go on to college, only to drop out after three to seven quarters without a marketable skill. Changing the attitudes of parents and the public about vocational-technical jobs would help relieve the problem. Instead, enrollment in vocational classes, both in high schools and in the area vocational centers, actually is decreasing.
State funding for vocational/technical education in the public schools actually has slipped slightly in recent years, Higbee said.
SLCC President Orval Carnahan told the council that even with a growing perception of the community colleges as a springboard to the universities, the emphasis on vocational education has not been diminished.