December 1, 2011

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Industry and Higher Ed Partner to Resolve the Talent Deficit

Gaylen Webb

December 1, 2011

Weber’s engineering degree program will not only help support the existing and future needs of Hill AFB, but will also serve other aerospace companies in the area, such as Alliant Techsystems, Boeing, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon.

Win-Win Partnerships

Many of the training partnerships target specific industries. The University of Utah just implemented a new course in power engineering to support the needs of Rocky Mountain Power. At SLCC, the partnership with L-3 is the most recent in a successful history of industry relationships. The school also serves the training needs of ITT Fiber Science, Hexcel, Intermountain Healthcare, Zions Bank and many others.

Some of the training partnerships extend well beyond state boundaries. For example, the Davis Applied Technology College (DATC) has established significant partnerships with international firms such as Volvo Trucks, Polaris Corporation, Lincoln Electric, Alliant Techsystems, Okuma America Corporation and Hartwig.

“Industry is absolutely integrated into the fabric of our institution,” says Mike Bouwhuis, president of the DATC. “Many of our programs had their genesis in companies coming forward and saying, ‘We can’t find the skilled workers we need.’”

The beauty of such education/industry partnerships is that Utah businesses get the skilled labor they need, which helps them stay relevant and competitive, while the educational institutions often receive cutting-edge technology on which to train the workers and other students. For example, Bouwhuis says Volvo Trucks “brings in all of its new equipment and leaves it with us for two years. Over the years, we have had new equipment valued at upwards of $2.5 million on our floor.”

Other partnerships have also benefited the school significantly. Okuma America Corporation and Hartwig provided the DATC with state-of-the-art machine shop equipment, while Lincoln Electric re-equipped the school’s welding shop with all of the latest technology, including a robotic welder and a simulated computer-based welder.

“It’s a cutting-edge facility and a model for the country,” Bouwhuis says. “The president of Lincoln Electric said this is one of the finest facilities in America.”

Partnering with business and industry also brings in students and supports the growth of the educational institutions as they make the training programs sustainable for current and future business needs.

Custom Fit Training

Like the DATC and SLCC, many of Utah’s colleges and universities have whole departments that focus on building and maintaining training partnerships with local business and industry. Many training partnerships have been facilitated through a state-sponsored program called “Custom Fit Training,” which is offered through Utah’s eight applied technology colleges, Snow College, Utah State University Eastern and SLCC. With the exception of SLCC, the program is administered by the Utah College of Applied Technology (UCAT).

Shannon Strickland, manager of Custom Fit Training and Short Term Intensive Training in the Corporate Solutions department at SLCC, says the school assisted 129 companies and 1,782 students via Custom Fit Training last year. Meanwhile, UCAT President Robert Brems says in FY 2011, some 1,050 companies employed Custom Fit Training via the eight applied technology colleges, Snow College or USU Eastern. In total, 14,308 trainees collectively obtained 219,583 hours of training via the UCAT-administered program.

“One the great outcomes of Custom Fit Training is that if businesses can’t find folks with the specialized skills required, the businesses can hire the best people they can find and then utilize Custom Fit Training to bring them up to speed,” says Brems. “The breadth and diversity of training is just astounding.”

The Custom Fit program is funded annually by the Utah State Legislature. Last year, the 10 schools within the UCAT-administered program received $2.8 million for Custom Fit Training. The schools then raised an additional $1.6 million from participating companies for a total of $4.4 million training dollars expended in fiscal year 2011.

The partnerships that are taking place between Utah’s educational institutions and industry also have a significant role in business recruitment. “Quite often, the businesses we are recruiting to the state will have specialized workforce training requirements, and our ability as a state to fulfill those requirements will weigh heavily on the decision to locate here,” says Jeff Edwards, president & CEO of the Economic Development Corporation of Utah.

Home Depot, Inc.’s decision in October to build a new customer service facility in Ogden—adding 691 jobs to the local economy—is one such example. To meet Home Depot’s workforce training needs, leaders from Ogden City partnered with administrators from Weber State University and Weber School District to facilitate the development of a specialized customer support service curriculum for the business.

“The partnerships between Utah businesses and the state’s educational institutions help keep us competitive economically and give us a distinct advantage in our business recruitment activities,” Edwards explains.

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