I remember the first time I ever heard Stephen Covey speak.  I was so excited to go back and start implementing the vision that he shared with us at his keynote address to our company.  We’ve all seen it happen though, as sound as the instruction was, within six months everyone within the organization had all but forgotten the advice, and forged ahead without making the necessary changes.

The first ever Silicon Slopes Tech Summit was, by all accounts, a wild success attended by five thousand people over two days.  Business and tech leaders from the Beehive State, and beyond, gathered to learn from some of the tech industry’s best and brightest at the Salt Palace in downtown Salt Lake City in January.  Leaders at the forefront of this event included Aaron Skonnard Co-founder & CEO, Pluralsight; Dave Bateman, CEO, Entrada; Dave Elkington, Founder & CEO, InsideSales.com; Josh James, Founder & CEO, Domo; Ryan Smith, Founder & CEO, Qualtrics

One of, if not the biggest messages received from these tech giants was how unsustainable the desired growth is in this area if we don’t all work to address one huge problem . . . there is not enough talent in the area to continue on our current trajectory.  Once again, solid advice and counsel from these leaders was given on how to remedy this urgent skills gap, most pointed to strengthening our educational offerings by getting industry involved in the education process.  Many of the ideas revolved around investing more in local education, from paying more for local graduates so they stay home, to starting early and providing laptops or other equipment for local schools. 

For every billion-dollar company in Utah, there are hundreds of companies that also want to invest and engage in education, but just as we could never pull off wearing a flat-billed cap to a business conference, writing a $50,000 check to provide our local elementary school with tablets just isn’t in the cards.  We learned about the aerospace pathway at this conference, where the likes of Boeing, and Orbital ATK invested heavily in providing specific curriculum to train their future workforce starting in the high schools, but again, most Utah companies could only dream of funding a seven-figure project such as a custom aerospace pathway. 

The key now, how do local businesses implement many of the great ideas and prevent that dreaded conference curse of falling back into the same routines once the excitement wears off from the big event?  Just like the fitness goals that we make every January, we see the vision of how we will look and feel after finishing that marathon, but what steps and habits do we realistically undertake today that make the lasting changes that will eventually result in accomplishing the long-term vision?

Lt. Governor Cox opened in the keynote session of the summit by introducing the new Talent Ready initiative  to engage employers and educators in a common vision and effort.  Governor Herbert shared more details about the Governor’s Office of Economic Development project during the State of the State address, but Lt. Governor Cox teased the crowd by revealing the focus of the initiative, “we’ll soon be knocking on your doors.” 

Knock . . . knock.

Here’s where every company can start, lend your logo and support to the career and technical education that is currently ongoing, and get involved.  Writing a check is always appreciated, but what schools really need is industry involvement.  Students need to learn what industry is looking for, and for this, there is no shortcut, there is no gadget or device that delivers this into the classroom.  This requires, good old-fashioned involvement by you, the subject matter experts in the field that know what our students need to know in order to make it in your companies.

The first step to making this happen is to get on board, support the current efforts, and once the right people are in the room, kick it up a notch and engage in meaningful exchange of ideas on the standards for each and every course, and keep them current.  The standards are what teachers teach from, and what students are tested on, so if those standards are current and relevant, then students are always learning what they need to know, it becomes a scalable and sustainable model, they get the right knowledge and skills to become employable and a beneficial asset to your companies.  The good news is, no need to wait, there is a vehicle and a platform currently in place for this involvement. 

The division of the Utah State Board of Education that works tirelessly to provide our high school students with career and technical education is headed up by Utah CTE Director, Thalea Longhurst.  Thalea and her team of specialists have established an undeniable national reputation as one of the most successful state career and technical education teams.  On the subject of employer engagement, in career and technical education, she writes that their team, “is constantly striving to deliver and administer programs that provide tangible value to our students.  The Career Skills Assessment program, administered through Precision Exams, is one that provides us with valuable outcomes and data and is fully embedded within the Career and Technical Education program statewide.  By adding local industry recognition, we believe these certificates carry even more value as the knowledge and skills earned by students when earning a certificate will provide them with a clear pathway into high-pay and high-demand roles with local employers, and your involvement ensures this local recognition of earned competencies.”

If you’re coming off the high of the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit and you’re looking for that Monday morning solution to start acting on some of the excitement from the conference, it won’t cost you or your company any money, and the first steps are simple . . . just raise your hand.