Collectively dubbed “Silicon Slopes” for their high concentration of tech companies, Salt Lake City, Park City and Provo are increasingly drawing top talent from all across the country.

This is great news for our students, who only stand to gain from their proximity to one of America’s key innovation hubs. If they are able to meet the needs of some of the area’s most sought-after employers — Microsoft, Adobe, eBay, etc. — they won’t have to travel far to go far in their careers.

Even better, Utah students don’t have to wait to start working toward those career goals. Through a career-focused education, students can start acquiring the skills they’ll need to thrive in a specific position or industry — IT especially.

A supplement to traditional K-12 curriculum, career readiness education gives students a chance to learn about a wide variety of industries, the opportunities within them, and what kind of continuing education/training they might need in addition to high school.

That last part is where career-relevant learning experiences can step in, offering high-schoolers classes designed by, and in some cases taught by, industry professionals. Students can get a clear picture of what a particular job is like from someone who was just in the industry, and they can also start to gain resume-boosting skills and certifications before their diploma is in hand.

In a culture that has had a tendency to too heavily push unsure students toward college, such an opportunity is invaluable. It allows students to explore different career tracks while they’re still in the K-12 system, before they pay thousands of dollars for a college degree.

Depending on their intended field, it enables some students to immediately jump into the workforce. On the flip side, if students choose to pursue a collegiate degree, this approach at least allows them to do so with a better sense of what they want to get out of their degree program.

Considering the strength of Utah’s tech community — it already employs more than 300,000 Utahans — it makes perfect sense for IT-inclined students to get a jump start on the competition in any way they can. That means enrolling in related appropriate classes, engaging in work-based opportunities that help them put their skills to the test, and thinking about whether they would additionally benefit from learning in a virtual classroom.

In a virtual classroom, students aren’t just learning practical hard skills. They’re gaining critical soft skills as well. Online learners are forced to tackle problems and think critically, learning to work with peers from all over the state via text chat or video, and the self-paced nature of these courses forces them to properly manage their time and hold themselves accountable.

These soft skills are essential in any industry. As remote work grows more frequent and digital offices grow more common, employers increasingly seek talent that can thrive in a digital setting and work well with colleagues in different cities, different states and even different countries.

That’s why it’s so important for all students to have access to online career readiness education pathways, even if they aren’t headed toward IT. Technology, to some extent, is a part of every job these days, which is exactly why we’re helping students learn the technical skills and the soft skills they’ll need to succeed in the 21st-century business, healthcare, IT, hospitality and commercial photography fields.

Utah is having a remarkable moment — we’re up there on the list of states that have added the most jobs, and Kiplinger predicts we’ll do the same next year. Our “Silicon Slopes” are at least partially responsible for that growth, but if we want to make sure our students are ready to take on these new opportunities, career readiness has to be a greater priority.

Meghan Merideth is head of school at Utah Virtual Academy, powered by K12, Inc.