With 4,000 unfilled tech jobs, a new state program at Utah high schools will be ‘an important investment in our future,’ Gov. Herbert tells Silicon Slopes delegates

Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Adam Dunn, Spanish Fork developed his Jaxi the Robot videogame as a way to teach kids to code. His game has earned him $20,000 as the winner of the Utah Game Wars competition at Comic Con, at the Salt Palace, Friday, September 5, 2014

These statistic came up repeatedly Friday, on Day Two of the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit.

In Utah, there are 4,000 unfilled technology jobs. On average, they pay $81,000 a year.

But the state’s universities are producing 400 computer science graduates a year. Even with lots of in-migration, the gap between the industry’s demand for skilled workers and the available labor supply is widening while more high-tech companies are lured to set up shop on the Silicon Slopes — an area of southern Salt Lake and northern Utah counties.

Gov. Gary Herbert laid out the state’s plan to fight that existing and foreseen labor shortage, saying school districts in three Wasatch Front counties will kick off his IT Pathways Program this fall.

“This is an important investment in our future,” Herbert told thousands of delegates at the Salt Palace Convention Center in downtown Salt Lake City. “Our goal is to set the stage to have a computer science program in all of our schools.”

The IT Pathways Program is scheduled to be launched in:

Utah County • Students from Nebo, Alpine and Provo school districts will receive tech training from officials with Mountainland Technical College in Orem and Utah Valley University.

Salt Lake County • Canyons District students will get instruction through Salt Lake Community College and the University of Utah.

Davis County • Davis Applied Technology College and Weber State University will work with Davis District students.

“We want to make sure we bring people into the technology industry to see if they like it and have the attitude or aptitude for it,” Herbert said. “They’ll be exposed to all facets of computer science and technology.” He sees the program as a “building block for students to graduate from high school and be career ready [with] job skills for the economy of tomorrow.”

Herbert used the tech gathering to detail his plan, announced last August, because many of the leading companies behind Silicon Slopes were there and have pledged to help the educational institutions and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development develop a meaningful curriculum for the students.

Industry partners include InsideSales, Vivint, Qualtrics, Microsoft, Nuvi, Banyan, Xactware, Workfront, Pluralsight, Instructure, Domo and Dell EMC.

“There’s definitely a talent crunch,” said Steve Elkington, CEO of InsideSales.com. Added Aaron Skonnard, CEO of Pluralsight: “There’s a direct correlation between exposure to computer science programs and graduation numbers.” Pluralsight is a Provo-based company that develops online training programs.

Alice Steinglass has been working to advance computer science education as the president of code.org, which develops curriculum and software to support introductory classes for students from kindergarten through high school.

Particular attention should be paid, she said, to enticing more women and minority populations into the field.

“The lack of diversity is everywhere you look in the software workforce,” Steinglass said, noting that less than 25 percent of the industry is female. Refugee populations also are missing from the mix.

“By reaching underrepresented populations, we can change the face of computer science and give these kids an opportunity they don’t have today,” she said, contending that with even one hour of exposure to coding, high school girls are far more likely to envision a career in computer science.