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Creating a skilled workforce and turning students into mature members of society, both by partnering with businesses, are two major goals higher education experts from around Utah are working toward, according to a discussion they had during Utah Business magazine’s annual education roundtable Thursday morning.
Mary Ann Holladay, moderator for the roundtable and director of the Utah Women and Education Initiative, said an important question educators should ask themselves is “how can businesses advocate for education?” Many of the educational leaders felt that businesses should provide more opportunities for students to obtain their college degrees.
Jan Scharman, student life vice president at Brigham Young University, said internships are one avenue she’d like to see more businesses take.
“When we can give our students practical experience with businesses, both sides benefit,” she said. “It’s oftentimes much less expensive for businesses.”
Kevin Jessing, president of BioInnovations Gateway, agreed and said internship opportunities create soft skills that go beyond what the typical curriculum would be in a classroom. He said students are able to learn skills like the financial aspects of a company or how to work together in a team.
Tami Goetz, state science adviser for the state of Utah, said kindergarten through 12th grade students need to have help from businesses too, whether it’s in the form of internships or other opportunities.
“K through 12 education is where it starts,” she said. “We’ve got to change our culture and how we view K through 12 education.”
Kimberly Henrie, assistant vice president for budget service and financial planning at Salt Lake Community College, said because equipment is expensive and businesses want higher education to train students on specific equipment, she feels it would be helpful for businesses to donate equipment they want students to learn how to use.
“That would make our partnership a two-way street,” she said.
Carson Howell, deputy director for USTAR, said educators also need businesses to be a voice for them with the Legislature.
“Businesses [need to] go in and say, ‘we need this money to go to higher education because we are the recipient of the benefits,’” he said. “That’s how businesses can step up.”
Goetz said the bottom line is if students aren’t given a strong education, that won’t lead to workforce development, which in turn won’t lead to economic development.
“It’s a very simple equation,” she said.
Holladay said there are several success stories about partnerships between schools and businesses in Utah, but there’s always an opportunity to progress.
“It’s not a dark picture, but it’s one with room for improvement,” she said.
The education roundtable will appear in the August issue of Utah Business magazine.