Various aspects of the economy can be complex, and labor markets are no exception. When job growth is high (think Utah’s blistering 4.5%) sometimes ensuring that the production of skilled workers keeps pace with the creation of jobs can feel like a challenge. In economic terms: how do we better match labor supply and labor demand? The free market in Utah generally does a good job of this, and, coupled with some key initiatives, we’re definitely seeing the positive results. One example is a Utah program that helps answer the above question, and just approved $3.45 million in new economic and workforce development funding.
The Utah Cluster Acceleration Partnership — commonly called UCAP — is a collaborative partnership between Workforce Services, Public and Higher Education, and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. UCAP administers grants to help align education outcomes with employer needs. A buzzword you might hear a lot — workforce alignment — essentially means building a better pipeline between what classrooms teach and what workplaces need. And that’s precisely what UCAP does — in a very targeted way.
Of the $3.45 million in grants approved for the 2016 award year, $2.2 million went to higher education and trade associations, and the remaining $1.25 million went to public education. The 20 grants were spread across many different initiatives, such as the University of Utah’s partnership with Research Quests, which is using their $127,000 grant (combined with $337,500 of their own leveraged funds) to help middle school students develop critical thinking, collaboration, and communication skills.
Soft skills aren’t the only focus. The Northern Utah National Tooling and Machining Association received $150,000 (combined with $345,220 of their own leveraged funds) to develop and market a CNC (computer numeric controlled) machinist apprenticeship program. This program will allow participants to earn a U.S. Department of Labor approved CNC Machinist Certificate that is recognized across the nation.
These are just two examples of the numerous workforce development projects that are moving Utah’s economy forward thanks to the UCAP program. The key takeaway for others looking to better meet employer needs is this: locally driven partnerships between education, workforce development, and the private sector offer a tried and true model to achieve more successful workforce alignment.
For more information on the UCAP program, or to learn how to apply for the next round of grants, visit jobs.utah.gov/department/ucap.html.