A new state education initiative is looking to ultimately bring more high-tech, high-wage jobs to rural Utah.

The Utah STEM Action Center recently announced the Utah K-16 Computing Initiative, which will target rural communities needing support in building computing programs in local schools and school districts. Several companies led the creation of the initiative in partnership with the Utah State Board of Education, Talent Ready Utah and the Utah STEM Action Center. STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The announcement came during a stop of the 25K Jobs Launch Tour, highlighting Gov. Gary Herbert’s goal of creating 25,000 jobs outside the Wasatch Front over the next four years. Improving computer capabilities is seen as one way to address the estimated 8,000 technology jobs that remain open in Utah due to a lack of skilled talent.

The initiative includes a focus on K-8 industry-vetted course content, work-based learning opportunities, college readiness, stackable credentials and the granting of funds to support the development of those components in school districts statewide. The Utah Legislature provided $1.255 million in ongoing funds during the 2017 session, and the grant program launched in early August.

“Dell is committed to putting technology and expertise where it can do the most good for people,” said Vance Checketts, vice president and general manager at Dell EMC. “The K-16 Computing Initiative and STEM Mentor Exchange are two recent examples where we have been heavily involved with public and private sector partners in the state. We encourage all of our employees to give back to the community and share their expertise in classrooms, preparing and encouraging students for careers in STEM. We know these efforts will have a significant positive impact.”

“We’re committed to engaging with this young generation of problem solvers,” said Bruce Cutler, STEM education outreach coordinator with Ivanti. “We work closely with Boys and Girls Club in our community, volunteering our time to teach kids coding, and we see firsthand how impactful our efforts are, and we hope that other companies can do the same.”

Companies and organizations that have participated in the Utah K-16 Computing Initiative advisory committee include Dell EMC, Adobe, Ivanti, 3M, Comcast, Oracle, Microsoft, IMFlash, InsideSales, O.C. Tanner, Hill Air Force Base, Orbital ATK, Google Fiber, Accelerant, Utah Digital Entertainment Network, BAE Systems, AT&T, Vivint, Utah Technology Council, Women’s Tech Council and Silicon Slopes.

“This is an exciting opportunity for us to support all Utah students and teachers and the communities they call home,” said Tamara Goetz, executive director of the Utah STEM Action Center. “Computing knowledge and skills cut across nearly every educational discipline and every industry in our state. We are grateful for the governor’s 25k Jobs Initiative to create an opportunity to better leverage state resources for Utah’s rural communities.”

“Jobs in the tech industry can often be done remotely, which makes them a great fit for rural Utah,” said Derek B. Miller, president and chief executive officer of World Trade Center Utah. “The Utah K-16 Computing Initiative will provide Utah students with computer programming skills that will increase their marketability and give them flexibility in where they live. This is a great development for rural communities.”

Utah Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, said the Legislature has heard the demand for more high-paying, rewarding jobs as well as heard the demand from industry for a future workforce with more computing skills.

“That’s why this bill is so critical in the opportunities it will create for students,” said Okerlund, whose district includes all or part of Beaver, Garfield, Juab, Kane, Millard, Piute, Sanpete, Sevier, Utah and Wayne counties.

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