Skip to main content

Davis Journal

The future of Utahs prosperity begins with our high school students

Mar 28, 2024 08:46AM ● By Brian Hunt, Career and Technical Education Director, Davis School District, Utah
Utah has long been known for its work ethic and industry, and as a great place to do business – facts recently backed up by a number of economic rankings and performance indicators. For example, U.S. News & World Report ranked Utah as the #1 economy and #1 state in the country. The latest U.S. Census data shows that Utah is the fastest-growing state in the country, increasing by 18.4% since 2010. Our job growth continues to lead the nation and outperforms the national average, 2.0% to 1.8%. Utah’s unemployment rate is quite low and lower than the national rate, 2.8% to 3.7%.
With all the accolades and rankings, it’s easy to become complacent and think that Utah’s stellar economy will continue to boom well into the foreseeable future. That may not be the case unless we take proactive steps now to prepare our up-and-coming workforce to fill a variety of high-demand, highly skilled positions across the state’s various industries and employers. A prepared workforce is critical to Utah’s continued economic strength. If we want to keep our rankings as the #1 economy and the best state in the country, we need to be smart and strategic in how we continue forward. We must invest more in Utah’s educational opportunities, particularly in Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs. 
It’s essential that we support CTE because we need to become better at educating our students while driving schools to function more efficiently. Students participating in CTE programs learn valuable technical and durable skills that can help them succeed in college and the workplace. When done right, CTE courses complement students’ career goals in a high-quality program that gives them practical hands-on experience.  
CTE is for every student – it’s for future healthcare providers, accountants, engineers, software developers, machinists, teachers, and the list goes on. CTE isn’t an alternative to college or anti-college; it’s a supplemental tool that helps students better prepare for all kinds of postsecondary pathways, including college. Another benefit to students is that they can also earn industry credentials that they can carry with them as they work toward their college degrees or attend technical and trade schools. These credentials can even serve as entryways into in-demand fields.
For our students to get the most out of CTE courses, we must provide access to these resources earlier in their school experiences so they know which courses they should take. Many students don’t know what their schools have to offer and what programs are available. If they don’t know about these resources, they can’t utilize them or benefit from them. Utah-based YouScience, with its career and aptitude assessment, helps students to discover their aptitudes and best-fit careers, which provides more learning opportunities and creates a pathway for students to follow, including which CTE courses to take or pathway programs to pursue. 
Waiting until college to take career-related courses is not the way to go; students should be taking them now so they’re ready for what lies ahead. Think of it as having a child about to start kindergarten. If their parents or other adults read to them regularly, they have a head start on learning how to read when they arrive at school. Similarly, students who are exposed to CTE early in their scholastic careers are better positioned to declare their majors, follow more efficient pathways, and incur fewer costs when they attend college. 
If we, as a state, fully support and invest in CTE programs in our schools, our students will be better prepared, better trained, and better positioned to learn and acquire the skills they need to thrive wherever their career pathways take them. And, in turn, we’ll have a highly trained, highly skilled workforce that will help Utah maintain its strong economy and national rankings.