Lehi • As human resources director at the software company Domo, Cathy Donahoe understands the needs, opportunities and challenges that must be addressed by the state’s new IT Pathways Program.

Companies of all sizes need employees throughout their ranks who are computer savvy, she said at Wednesday’s unveiling of the initiative, an event that attracted the governor, university presidents and tech-company executives. The program, which is still being designed, will help high school students and adults gain coding experience and other skills they need for tech careers.

“IT systems run all businesses. Who doesn’t use technology to do their jobs. … It’s everywhere in our world,” Donahoe said. So an IT program shouldn’t just focus on top-of-the-line technical positions; it should also make it possible for people to get training for jobs that require different levels of expertise, she said.

“We need writers, people across all disciplines,” she said, echoing other speakers who argued for the creation of “stackable credentials.”

That’s the buzzword that applies to the idea of crafting one- and two-year training and education programs that allow workers to elevate their skills and compete for better jobs without acquiring a traditional four-year academic degree.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The GovernorÕs Office of Economic Development (GOED) and Silicon Slopes meet in Lehi to announce a partnership with IT companies and education to create a pathway program to fill workforce needs in the stateÕs tech industry.'
(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The GovernorÕs Office of Economic Development (GOED) and Silicon Slopes meet in Lehi to announce a partnership with IT companies and education to create a pathway program to fill workforce needs in the stateÕs tech industry.'

“We need to be able to bring people in at stages so they can get more credentials to advance,” said Utah State University President Noelle Cockett, noting this ability to move back and forth between the workforce and learning is especially important for first-generation Americans.

Cockett and others also advocated spreading the word about the availability of good tech jobs earlier to high school students “so they can see more cool options ahead of them.”

An even bigger challenge will be convincing the parents of many of those students that it’s all right to take courses that develop technical skills, rather than getting a four-year college degree, said Utah Valley University President Matthew Holland.

“This is a practical request I’d make of industry. There’s a crying need for marketing,” he said. “We need parents to understand this. They grew up in a different economy. They don’t understand the skills needed for the new economy.”

Holland and other speakers agreed that Utah is well positioned to tackle these problems.

“Nobody’s just sitting around. There’s a lot going on around the state,” he said, citing other government-academia-industry collaborations on Pathways programs to build workforces for aerospace, diesel technician and medical device companies. “But we have to move the needle further faster.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Deneece Huftalin, president of Salt Lake Community College, joins the conversation at Silicon Slopes in Lehi following the announcement of a partnership between IT companies and education leaders to create a program to fill workforce needs in the state's tech industry.
(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Deneece Huftalin, president of Salt Lake Community College, joins the conversation at Silicon Slopes in Lehi following the announcement of a partnership between IT companies and education leaders to create a program to fill workforce needs in the state's tech industry.

Carine Clark, chief executive of MaritzCX, a Lehi company whose technology helps clients analyze consumer data in real time, recommended that developers of the IT Pathways Program provide help for the 88,000 single moms who run households. If they can make a living in a technology or other fields, she said, their kids have a much better chance of entering the tech workforce when they grow up.

And since Utah still needs to import talent to fill many tech positions, especially in midlevel management, Donahoe said people in the state must do a better job of making newcomers feel welcome.

“If you’re a single male not of the predominant religion and you’re going to be working in Utah County, how do you meet people? How do you get a date?” she asked. “When people relocate here, how do we create an ecosystem where they feel comfortable? How do we create this concept of inclusion, not just at the company level, but at the state level?”

Gov. Gary Herbert said state officials recognize the need for them to take the lead on building the workforce if Utah is to maintain its current ranking as the top state for tech-job growth, at close to 7.7 percent in 2016.

And industry will be right there with the public sector, pledged Vance Checketts, vice president and general manager of Dell EMC.

“Industry is engaged and ready,” he said, “to take advantage of the tremendous opportunity ahead of us.”