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Column - Utah Prepares for Increasing Demand of Highly-Trained Workforce


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The world of education, training and technology is constantly evolving, and we've all seen the effects of that first hand. When I was first sworn in as a U.S. Senator, only 26 percent of American middle-class workers had any kind of post high school training or education. In those days, it was easier for individuals to find long-term jobs, settle into careers, and support their families with relatively less training or education compared to today.

Fast forward to today. Due largely to giant leaps in technology and increased globalization and trade, studies estimate that nearly 60 percent of all jobs today require training or education beyond high school, and that statistic continues to climb. And, not only is it more difficult to find a job without post-high school education, but statistics show that the wage gap has nearly doubled between individuals who have bachelor's degrees and those with a high school diploma.

American workers can compete with anyone, but in order for our country to remain competitive on a global scale and for workers to receive the compensation needed to support themselves and their families, we have work to do in the world of training, education and technology, both on the state and federal level.

I've written before about legislation I introduced in the U.S. Senate -- the Immigration Innovation Act -- which uses some of the funds from the restructuring of fees for immigrant visas to implement a grant program administered by Utah and states across the country to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education and worker retraining.

And on the state level, Governor Herbert and the Utah State Legislature are implementing the PACE initiative, which strives to increase the percentage of Utah's adult workforce holding post-secondary degrees from the current 43 percent to 66 percent by 2020. The PACE plan, which stands for pace young learners, access for all students, complete certificates and degrees and economic success, is ambitious and detailed, outlining specific goals to improve education in Utah to reach the goal of an educated taskforce by 2020. Major goals and plans of the PACE initiative include:

- Increasing funding for students and teachers
- Establishing clear guidelines and standards to improve STEM education for all students
- Providing technology for 21st century learning
- Better preparing students for college entrance exams
- Investing in scholarships and expanded programming and buildings on campuses
- Investing in the U of U medical school to produce 20 more doctors per year

The PACE plan takes some strong steps forward in education reform, and makes those changes where I've always felt education standards should be set -- at the state level, closest to teachers and students. I look forward to working with our state leaders to increase post-high school degrees and certificates received in the coming years. This will ensure that Utah remains at the top of places to do business, and Utahns continue to lead the way in a global economy.

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