Steve Griffin, Deseret News
The Utah Department of Workforce Services Tuesday opened the application period for the 2019 Talent Ready Utah grant program, which focuses on developing work-based training and career pathways for students and adults competing in the labor force.

SALT LAKE CITY — Living in the Four Corners area of southeastern Utah, Whitehorse High School student Emiel Stash knows the challenges young people of the Navajo Nation face when they have few outlets to expend their free time energy.

Left to their own devices, many kids turn to mischievous or potentially more serious behaviors that can lead to real consequences, he said.

For that reason, the Montezuma Creek resident is hoping to learn how to create a business plan that will help him develop a place where kids can go to have fun and stay out of trouble.

"What I have in mind is opening a business, like an entertainment center (or) arcade in my rural town," he explained. "Like so many cases in rural communities, there's a lot of underage drinking and domestic problems and there's no place where people young can go and just hang out."

He said creating a gathering space could foster community togetherness allowing people to socialize and participate in events with each other.

"I've seen people in my high school that have social problems and have trouble interacting, so I want to open up a place to bring the community together," he reiterated.

Last year, Whitehorse High School in the San Juan School District in San Juan County was a beneficiary of a $97,500 Talent Ready Utah grant that was used to create curriculum on entrepreneurship for students, explained Sandra Capitan, business teacher at Whitehorse High.

"The ideas are great, but helping them to implement them has been troubling," she said. Getting tribal leaders to buy into some of the program ideas can be challenging, she noted, but the goal will be to get the financial resources necessary to give the project a chance so the district will be applying for new funding this year.

The Utah Department of Workforce Services recently opened the application period for 2019's Talent Ready Utah grant program, which focuses on developing work-based training and career pathways for students and adults who are competing in the labor force. This year, Workforce Services will allocate $1 million in grant funding.

“The purpose of Talent Ready Utah is to build the state’s workforce,” said Tami Pyfer, education adviser for Gov. Gary Herbert.

Grant money for the program comes from the Department of Workforce Services' job growth fund, which is appropriated by the state Legislature to invest back into the workforce, according to a news release. Over the past decade, funding from Talent Ready Utah grants has helped promote or grow more than 244 training programs and produced space for over 13,000 people who have participated in work-based training opportunities, according to Melisa Stark, Department of Workforce Services program manager of employer initiatives.

The Department of Workforce Services has been using the fund to provide seed money for development of new and existing programs since 2009, she said. Over the past 10 years, more than $15 million in grants have funded 94 projects leading to the formation of 573 new partnerships, she said.

Programs such as the Aerospace, Diesel Tech, Medical Innovations and Construction Career Pathways have been developed and expanded, she added.

The grants have funded an elementary school greenhouse where children learned about agriculture, engineering and design, renewable energy and entrepreneurship, as well as marketing campaigns encouraging millennials to consider manufacturing as a possible career path, Stark said. Funding has promoted projects that have impacted all educational levels and helped industries with the greatest need for new talent, she added.

"The main objective of this program is to drive industry to education. These grants are a true win-win,” she said. “Education and industry come together to better fulfill the workforce needs in our state, and students and job seekers are provided more opportunities to qualify for high-demand and high-skilled occupations.”

The partnerships help improve the quality of the training the schools and educational institutions are providing to meet industry demand, she added.

An example would be the need for more talent in the industrial automation industry, said Roger Snow, vice president for instructional services at Ogden-Weber Technical College. Industrial automation is "anything that is autonomously controlled" or controls itself, he explained.

"Really, it's just somebody is programming something to perform a task," he said. Companies in advanced manufacturing that use assembly lines and automation systems to increase productivity are prime examples of industrial automation, he noted.

"There is a high demand for skilled workers to design, build and maintain those systems," Snow said. "But there are not a lot of people going into that sector because they don't know what industrial automation is."

He said his institution used $200,000 in Talent Ready grant funding to create and develop a program that will introduce students as early as third grade to the potential career path, in hopes of igniting enthusiasm that might lead them to pursue the industry when they graduate high school.

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"We hook students early, (then) in junior high we get them into some career-oriented courses in manufacturing and robotic systems that spark their interest," he said. High school would include job shadowing, summer internships and paid apprenticeships that would result in on-the-job training, industry certification and eventually a college degree that would be employer paid, he said.

The program would provide a training ground for the future workforce that industry is clamoring to fill, he said.

"Instead of us pushing (students) through as educators, industry is grabbing their hand and pulling them through saying, 'Let's mentor you through this program,'" Snow said. "So we see higher completion rates and more students selecting this career sector if we can connect them with industry more quickly."