Representatives appointed by the governor and others are halfway through a process they hope will create a map to develop a more competitive work force for the 21st century.

The 21st Century Workforce Initiative is in full swing, collaboratively trying to "identify the pain points" of Utah's educational systems, said Gayle McKeachnie, steering committee representative. He said the group is making progress in that they are finding out what's holding up the learning process and talent turnout in Utah.

"We're on a mission of discovery," he said. "We're going to know things that nobody has ever thought about before. The success then depends upon what we do about it."

The process was spurred by a recent report, titled "Tough Choices or Tough Times," released by the National Center on Education and the Economy, which compared the skills of the current American work force with that of countries worldwide.

"What they found out was that we're in trouble," McKeachnie said.

The continuous outsourcing of talent by major corporations is evidence that the United States, including Utah, needs to rethink the way occupations and trades are peddled, he said, adding that "our current system is built for an era of rudimentary education."

"The collective 'aha' moment was when we realized, 'We don't have a plan,"' said George L. Angerbauer, communication and change management director for the Department of Workforce Services. The differing worlds and agendas of education, business and government collide in terms of moving in one direction.

So far, following four weeklong working meetings involving various leadership and community members from throughout the state, the group has addressed finance systems in the state, governance and problem areas associated with the organization of education systems, management systems, teacher recruitment, attrition and assessment and compensation. They have yet to consider topics such as adult education and work-force development, early childhood education, and assessment and curriculum issues.

"It's like a treasure hunt," McKeachnie said, adding that some treasures are favorable and others not so much.

The committee is charged with coming up with a report of findings following each session together and by September will present recommendations to a steering committee, which will take the options to Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. for further consideration and possible implementation.

"The governor's goal is to take a more proactive approach in meeting work-force goals in Utah," said Lisa Roskelley, spokeswoman for the governor. "We want all of the stakeholders to be hands-on at some point in this because truthfully we are all in this together."

Certain points in Utah's education system that have been identified by the group to be problematic include the process by which students receive counseling in schools, as well as how decisions are made and how data are collected and stored. Transferring teaching expertise from experienced teachers to newcomers was also pointed out to be an area with potential in Utah's schools.

The group hopes to come up with solutions to make Utah a viable producer of competent and competitive workers, in addition to getting education, business and government communities speaking the same language and have similar goals for the future outcome of the state.

Angerbauer said the process is moving along quickly but is meant to be a multiyear process, as "changes this big take time."


E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com