These days, the talk of the job market is all about advanced manufacturing. One may ask, how do prospective employees break into this field? In addition, what kinds of skills do they need to take advantage of this rapidly evolving and exciting area of expertise?

Thankfully, legislation working its way through Congress promises to open doors to exciting career paths in this field for today’s workforce and future generations of innovators. Congress is working to expand opportunities through the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, which is designed to promote and encourage programs just like Utah Aerospace Pathways – across the country.

That legislation, which recently passed the House of Representatives with strong bipartisan support, would help states expand technical education programs. It would greatly increase employer engagement in those programs to ensure that students are learning the skills most urgently needed in today’s workforce. It also would expand work-based learning opportunities such as apprenticeship and paid internship programs to high school students. All pathways to good jobs that don’t happen to run through four year colleges.

Now, it is time for the Senate to act on this critical issue.

Because as much as we hear from people who can’t find good jobs, we hear even more from businesses across Utah and the United States about the high-skilled, good-paying jobs they are unable to fill simply because they can’t find people with the technical skillsets required of the position.

It was this challenge that inspired Gov. Gary Herbert to launch his Talent Ready Utah efforts, which have now grown into programs such as Utah Aerospace Pathways. The program has also been expanded to include an adult learner program, aimed at providing a pathway for individuals seeking career transition opportunities in the aerospace field.

One only has to look at the example of Boeing here in Utah to understand why such a program was needed. Boeing is one of the largest manufacturers in the country and a leading employer in Utah with nearly 1,000 employees in our state. When most people think of jobs at a company like Boeing, they think of rocket scientists and aerospace engineers. While Boeing employs many folks in those jobs with advanced degrees, thousands of the company’s innovators have received the training required outside of the traditional college and university system.

In Utah that includes jobs such as fabrication specialists and assembly technicians. At the company’s three factories in the state, these employees are critical to building the composite Vertical Fins and Horizontal Stabilizers for the 787 Dreamliner airplane and they help operate sheet metal forming and machining tools, which are used in the assembly flight deck structures for all Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

However, the company has had trouble finding qualified applicants to fill these jobs as they often require specialized skills. Some require specialized applied math that most students never study. Others need knowledge of composite manufacturing and basic metrology not taught in most high schools. That is why Boeing has worked closely with Utah Aerospace Pathways to develop a focused curriculum that ensures the students learn what they need to know to perform these jobs.

While Boeing might be the most prominent of the partners, it is hardly the only success story here. Companies such as Orbital ATK has partnered with the program to help train employees to work at its composite manufacturing centers in Clearfield. Similarly, Hexcel’s West Valley City, where the company makes carbon fiber and resins, has partnered with the program. Utah Aerospace Pathways is key to providing a skilled workforce for Hill Air Force Base, home to the U.S. Air Force’s Technical Repair Center for aircraft landing gear, struts, composites, stealth coatings, and hydraulics, as well as providing support for other key programs that keep America safe.

When students sign up for the Utah Aerospace Pathways program to earn their Aerospace Manufacturing Certificate, they set off on a journey that includes 60 hours of study during the first semester. Then 48 hours of study during the second semester while also completing a paid internship at one of the many partner companies. Many of those students have been offered full time jobs at the companies they interned at.

Thankfully, Utah’s Senior Senator, Orrin Hatch has long championed programs like this in the Senate. He has been a leader in working to expand STEM and career training education opportunities in the Senate –and has commended the Aerospace Pathways program during hearings.

That leadership, combined with the bipartisan momentum after the legislation passed the House unanimously, gives us hope that Senate will follow suit soon. The Senate should quickly act to pass substantially similar legislation to what passed in the House this June to boost programs such as Utah Aerospace Pathways and more importantly create opportunities for all of America’s high school kids.

Kimberlee Carlile is the Director of Industry and Talent Initiatives in the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development