Government and industry are working to ensure open jobs in Utah are filled with skilled workers, but a proponent told a legislative committee on Wednesday that high school guidance counselors could do more to help in the effort.

More guidance counselors are needed, and they also need to better realize that not every student needs a four-year college degree, Rich Thorn, president and chief executive officer of the Utah Associated General Contractors, told the Workforce Services and Community and Economic Development Interim Committee.

"We have had difficulty trying to help people understand that if you don't go to college, or if you do go to college and it doesn't work for you, you're not a failure," Thorn said. "There are a lot of good things that you can still do, a lot of good career opportunities that you can be very successful in."

Thorn, who has been working with the Utah Department of Workforce Services on construction issues, said most guidance counselors are college graduates, and it's understandable that they would emphasize that path. But a large student population will not attend college, and he said counselors might "need a little bit more training or sensitivity about other options."

For the past few years, the AGC has had Construction Career Days, with about 20,000 high school students introduced to construction activities, and it has pushed apprenticeship and training programs. In July, it will have a two-day tour for 57 guidance counselors and vocational education teachers to visit construction sites to get a better understanding of various construction sectors.

Sen. Pat Jones, D-Holladay, agreed that more guidance counselors are needed — some schools have only one for 800 students, she said — and they need to get students thinking about career options earlier in their lives.

However, Steve Maas, the department's director of workforce development and information, said that a smaller percentage of jobs in Utah's future will be for people without post-secondary training. The percentage now is 32 percent "and that is shrinking," he said. About 70 percent of Utah jobs require some kind of post-secondary education.

"That's a big change, because it used to be we could depend upon a much larger percent of our work force being sweat-of-the-brow hard labor or no-skilled labor filling the jobs," he said.

On the skilled-work force front, Gary Harter, managing director for business development at the Governor's Office of Economic Development, said a federal program is creating interest about the biotechnology/life sciences field among young students. Utah Valley University has established a four-year biotech program, Salt Lake Community College has changed its biotech platform to one focused on bio-manufacturing, and other programs are helping the state's biotech sector.

In addition to training Utahns for available jobs, GOED has a Utah Recruitment Initiative that has developed a Web site,, and activities designed to entice out-of-staters to Utah.

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