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Steve Griffin, Deseret News
Val Hale, executive director of the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development, left, watches as Grantsville High School senior Seth Hicken tightens a rocker arm on a Detroit Diesel series 4000 V16 diesel engine at Detroit Diesel in Tooele on Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. Industry and education leaders on Wednesday announced an expansion of the Utah Diesel Technician Program, which creates more opportunities for Utah students by providing a direct pathway from high school and college into the workforce. Hicken is interested in the program and hopes to continue his education in the military.

TOOELE — One of the state's most successful vocational training programs is expanding its reach.

The Governor’s Office of Economic Development, in conjunction with diesel industry partners and education leaders, announced Wednesday the expansion of the Utah Diesel Technician Pathways Program to Davis and Tooele counties. The pathways initiative was developed to create more opportunities for Utah students by providing a direct route from high school and college into the workforce.

For some former students, like Kelly Nobles, 23, the program has already become the career dreams are made of.

"I always liked messing with diesel engines," the former Tooele Tech student explained. "Ever since then, I've always wanted to do it."

Steve Griffin, Deseret News
Tooele High School students tour Detroit Diesel in Tooele on Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019, after the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development, industry leaders and education leaders announced an expansion of the Utah Diesel Technician Program, which creates more opportunities for Utah students by providing a direct pathway from high school and college into the workforce.

Launched in February 2016, the two-year diesel tech program was piloted in the Jordan and Canyons school districts. A year later, the program grew to include the Alpine, Nebo and Provo school districts with Mountainland Technical College and Utah Valley University also joining the initiative. In 2017, there were 100 students enrolled in the first year, while that number increased to 120 last year.

This latest expansion of the program will include students from the Davis and Tooele school districts, as well as Tooele Tech and Davis Tech colleges, offering new opportunities for career-seeking students, said Davis Technical College President Darin Brush.

"(This is) exposure to career and technical education earlier and a fluid pathway with stackable credentials where they could be lifelong learners, grow with the industry and into the jobs of tomorrow," he said.

The program starts in high school with the completion of select classes. Upon graduation, students will complete an internship with one of the diesel technician industry partners and then at least a year of training at one of the secondary education partners.

After graduating from Tooele school, Nobles worked at a local truck dealership and eventually got a job at Detroit Diesel Remanufacturing, where he now works as a team leader building large engines — something he didn't even dream of when he was in high school just a few years ago.

"I figured I'd still be turning wrenches or doing lube (jobs) at a dealership," Nobles said. "Without the tech program, I wouldn't have gotten the job (at Detroit Diesel) building large engines. It's because of the certification from Tooele Tech."

Taylor Morris, 17, a junior at Syracuse High School who is concurrently enrolled in the diesel pathways program through Davis Tech, said it's the exact kind of career training he has always wanted to pursue.

"It's a great career to go into, great money to be made, but at the same time I love what I do," he said. "I've always had a mechanical mind and so to be able to find a program where you can turn what you love to do into a career, that's really important."

Morris noted that his father has completed the program, which influenced him to check it out since they often tinkered with car and truck engines when he was growing up. "I'm just continuing the family tradition," he added.

While he thought about taking a traditional path to college and then into a career, the diesel pathways program seemed like a better fit for his ambitions.

"It's cool that our districts give us the opportunity to go into a technical college early while you're still in high school," Morris said.

The program is free to high school students but it is also available to adults for a relatively modest cost, which depends on the fees charged at the particular institution they attend.

Clinton resident Andrew Huddleston, 35, joined the diesel pathways program after trying numerous other career options. He said finding the diesel program was a life-changing discovery.

"I'm more of a hands-on person," he said. "I like to get in and get my hands dirty."

"(Diesel trucking) is the lifeblood of this country," he said. "I love doing (technician work). The program gives me a leg up on everyone else."

The plan is part of Talent Ready Utah started by Gov. Gary Herbert to improve the state's education system and workforce by concentrating on growing and enhancing job-training strategies to meet industry needs for more qualified workers. Currently, there are four programs, including Medical Innovations Pathways, Utah Aerospace Pathways, IT Pathways and Diesel Tech Pathways.

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The goal of Talent Ready is to fill 40,000 high-skill, high-paying jobs by 2020, explained GOED spokesman Scott Romney.

Making more students and adults aware of the possibilities that are available to them in vocational training will help bolster the states employment economy in the years to come, said the agency's executive director, Val Hale.

"We all know young people (and adults) that want to work with their hands," he said. "They want to create, they want to fix, they want to build. For those type of students, this is a great opportunity."