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Ted S. Warren, AP Photo, File

Civic leaders aim to keep Utah's jobs economy thriving into the future

By Jasen Lee, KSL | Posted - Jun 19th, 2019 @ 11:02am

SALT LAKE CITY — With the economy in Utah and across America experiencing one of the best periods in recent history with low unemployment, civic leaders are faced with the problem of filling scores of open positions in various industries.

Members of a national committee met this week to discuss how to develop solutions to the "good" problem of having more jobs than available labor.

Scott Pulsipher, president of Salt Lake-based Western Governors University, is a member of the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board, which was established by the Center for American Innovation in conjunction with the secretary of Commerce in the Trump administration and which convened Tuesday in Charlotte, North Carolina, to address readying the current workforce for the future.

"We were trying to address the gap that exists between the total number of open jobs (nationally) and the number of people that are unemployed today," he said. "We need more individuals activated into the workforce."

Another matter to address is the skills gap within the workforce and what could be done to train individuals for the jobs that will be available in the years ahead, he added.

"Everything is being shaped by technology that is happening across different sectors of the economy and that is leading to a significant need for re-skilling and up-skilling and enabling individuals to be more ready for that future workforce," Pulsipher said. "Utah is definitely a microcosm of the challenge that is happening across the greater U.S."

With Utah's jobless rate hovering just below 3 percent, he said the Beehive State is an acute representation of the nationwide workforce challenge. He said one of the issues the board is working on is to increase awareness of the need for more job seekers to consider career training or certification programs that are in high demand.

"It's not only through a bachelor's (degree) program or a credential program in higher education, it can also be through apprenticeship models or work-based models or new alternative pathways like coding boot camps that are specifically targeted toward the technology workforce," he said. "Those needs also make sure they have lifelong pathways."

He said state-sponsored skills training programs and employer-provided training can provide pathways into various industry sectors where labor demand is high and a solution is needed to ensure the potential for economic growth that currently exists, he said.

Pulsipher also noted that millions of adults across the United States are not active in the workforce — something that if addressed effectively could provide a workable solution to the workforce challenge the nation and Utah are now facing.

"To really address the demand that is needed by the economy in the future, we need to figure out ways that group can be activated," he said. "Some of that will be through new and alternative pathways to higher education and some of it may be through employer-provided training."

Ensuring that individuals who are not currently in the workforce can make a successful transition to full- or part-time employment will create even greater efficiencies within the economic structure, he said.

"Those individuals need to know they can get employer-provided training and they can go into career and technical education or through community college pathways or (accredited) online institutions that are affordable and in line with the needs of the workforce," he said.

Getting more people into the workforce and having them be prepared to take on the jobs that will be available should be a priority for state and local civic leaders interested in maintaining Utah's robust economic outlook, he said.

"It's a very good problem to have if you will. Having a strong economy with high growth and your bigger challenge is about how you activate more individuals and how you activate greater competency and proficiency for the future of work," Pulsipher said. "That's very different than if you're in a recession or some (thing like it). Opportunity abounds and there are more pathways to that today than there have ever been, so we're trying to make sure that we increase awareness and access to those (opportunities) so that individuals can be on a path to a more provident life."

Jasen Lee

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