Despite a booming tech sector, technology companies in Utah are struggling to fill many open positions in the field, but a collaborative of public and private organizations led by Weber State is working to fill the gap.
This group, called the Utah Computing Apprenticeship Collaborative (UCAC), has been awarded $2 million by the Department of Labor to create more Utah apprenticeships in information technology, according to press releases from Weber State and the Department of Labor.
Weber State will be responsible for managing the project and its funding.
The university will also be leading a consortium of higher education institutions to develop a more flexible way to offer computer science curriculum.
“We’re creating highway on-ramps at any point, so you don’t have to wait until Jan. 1 (to start classes), you can start Feb. 12,” said James Taylor, director of Weber State’s Office of Sponsored Projects.
Weber State and other higher education partners will share their curriculum with higher education institutions across the state as they develop it, Taylor said.
One of Weber State’s primary partners is the Silicon Slopes organization, Taylor said.
Silicon Slopes is a nonprofit “empowering Utah’s startup and tech community to learn, connect, and serve in an effort to make entrepreneurship and opportunity in Silicon Slopes open and accessible to all,” according to the organization’s website.
Most people think of the Silicon Slopes corridor in Lehi when they hear the name, but the organization has chapters across the state, including in Farmington, Ogden, Brigham City and Logan.
Taylor said the organization is expanding its reach throughout Northern Utah, and this collaborative is a major component of its growth in the area.
Apprentices participating in the program go through three stages: assessment, education and on-the-job training.
Prospective apprentices take an assessment that measures potential in a variety of areas, and those scoring at the 80th percentile or above move on to the hiring pool, according to the Silicon Slopes Apprenti website. When they have been selected for an apprenticeship with an organization, participants move on to the next stage.
The education stage is where university partners like Weber State come in, getting students up to speed with certain skills before they start on-the-job training. Apprentices attend this training full-time with others in their cohort.
Then participants advance to on-the-job training with “a committed mentor” in a partnering organization, according to the program’s website. Apprentices will be paid a full-time salary with benefits for their work.
At the conclusion of their year-long apprenticeship, participants have all the skills they need to be employed in the field, and they will possess a certificate of completion of the apprenticeship, which is registered with the Department of Labor and recognized across the industry.
The first cohort of participants starts in August, Taylor said.
Apprenti also aims to bring into the field participants from underrepresented groups who have difficulty accessing training through traditional paths.
“This grant means that access to the opportunities of Utah’s tech sector just took a giant leap toward being open to all,” said Ben Luks-Morgan, Silicon Slopes Apprenti director, in Weber State’s press release. “This collaboration will change the face of Utah’s technology sector.”
In addition to Weber State, the larger collaborative is made up of Salt Lake Community College, Davis Technical College and 14 firms, according to a Department of Labor press release.
Private organizations in the collaborative run the gamut, Taylor said, because information technology positions exist in almost every industry.