For decades, Utah politicians and business leaders have talked about the necessity of aligning the state’s educational system with that of industry to better address the work force needs of the future.
In a press conference filled with many of the same platitudes of the past, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert on Tuesday spoke of ways the state could help increase the number of Utahns who hold skilled trade certificates and college degrees.
Yet unlike the past, Herbert vowed this time things will be different. Action will be taken.
"We are not here to just talk about it," he said after his remarks. "We are going to do something about it."
Herbert said he and his Education Excellence Commission, a group made up of education, political and business leaders, along with the Salt Lake Chamber’s Prosperity 2020 coalition of business and community leaders have offered "concrete" recommendations to the Legislature. He added that he will be asking lawmakers to join with him in making education the state’s highest budget priority.
Among the recommendations are proposals to ensure that 90 percent of the state’s elementary school students are reading on level by the third grade and that sixth-graders are proficient in mathematics. Also, a plan was offered that would allow students to complete their first year of college while still seniors in high school.
"We haven’t just come up with a report that is going to wind up on someone’s desk," Herbert said. "In order for us to be able to prosper, we need to prepare the Utah work force. It is about jobs and economic opportunity."
Speaking with the governor was Anthony P. Carnevale, of the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University. Carnevale referred to a study he authored that found 66 percent of all jobs in Utah will require some postsecondary training beyond high school in 2018.
Today, only 45 percent of the state’s working population has earned postsecondary degrees or certificates attesting to their proficiency in a skilled trade.
"Employers are voting with paychecks and that is how we know the value of postsecondary education," Carnevale said.
Lane Beattie, president of the Salt Lake Chamber, said the "gold standard for economic success is education" and helping the state achieve the 66 percent goal is one of the chamber’s priorities.
Herbert said with the state’s economy showing signs of a rebound he is optimistic that additional money will be available and that the Legislature will begin to seriously consider the commission’s proposals. "This is about positioning our state for the future," he said.
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