Skip to Content

  • A
  • A
  • A


Head of the Class

The Utah College of Applied Technology Prepares the Workforce of Tomorrow

By Heather Stewart

In Utah, education is highly valued—the state’s rates of high school and college graduation are above the national average. But business and education leaders want more for the community: They want individuals to have greater opportunities in their lives, and they want to strengthen Utah’s already rock-solid economy with an educated, skilled and adaptable workforce.

Edu Alex Nabaum

That’s why business leaders came together to form the Prosperity 2020 coalition—a group that has set the remarkable goal that 66 percent of adult Utahns will have attained a post-secondary certificate or degree by the year 2020.
The goal is certainly ambitious, but Utah has an ace in the hole: the Utah College of Applied Technology (UCAT). In fact, a technical certificate is the route of choice for many people who are looking to sharpen their skills and position themselves for the careers of the future.
The UCAT system is large, with eight campuses spread throughout the state. The system offers more than 290 accredited program certificates in fields ranging from human resources to healthcare to construction—and even to high-tech fields like composites, information technology and industrial automation. In the composite training area for example, hundreds of millions of dollars of leading edge equipment and training facilities have been added to the campus system.
Every certificate program offered by UCAT is guided by an employer advisory committee to ensure the training aligns with the workforce needs of local businesses. Indeed, the success of UCAT lies in the partnerships that the campuses forge with businesses and institutions of higher education.
“Twice a year, we review our curriculum with the needs of local businesses in mind,” says Michael Bouwhuis, president of the Davis Applied Technology College campus.
The state’s Custom Fit program takes that collaboration a step further—through that program, qualifying companies can have their local UCAT campus create an individualized training program for their employees. This training can be administered onsite or at the campus. And best of all, up to 40 percent of the training costs may qualify to be picked up by the state.

Manufacturing a Workforce

Autoliv is a global company, based in Stockholm, that operates five manufacturing facilities in Utah. The company manufactures vehicle airbags in its Utah plants, employing about 5,000 workers in the state, according to Todd Watson, human resources representative for the company.
Watson has worked for Autoliv in Utah for nearly two decades, and says UCAT has been a long-time partner with the company, enabling it to build and maintain its skilled workforce in the state.
Autoliv sends employees to several programs at the Bridgerland, Ogden-Weber and Davis campus. Employees take basic computer, electrician and computer-aided design classes through UCAT. And if production-level employees want to move up into equipment maintenance positions—which are skilled, high-paying jobs at Autoliv—they must complete the industrial automation maintenance program.
Automation is replacing low-paid workers across the manufacturing industry. However, this automation also creates a need for highly skilled workers to maintain and program the equipment. Watson points out that earning the certification is not only helpful if employees want to move up at Autoliv, but also if they wish to leave the company and bring their skills to a new manufacturer.
“We hope they don’t do that, of course, but we certainly understand that sometimes people need to move on,” he says. Watson notes that Autoliv doesn’t always have available maintenance positions when an employee earns his or her maintenance certificate, but they can take that certification, along with valuable experience gained at Autoliv, to another manufacturer anywhere in the country.
In addition to the maintenance program, Watson says Autoliv relies on the Custom Fit program to implement tailored training programs—both onsite at Autoliv and on-campus at one of the UCAT locations. For example, one of the facilities recently arranged employment law training for 150 of its leaders. “It had been awhile since we’d focused on that, and it’s good to stay up to date on that subject,” Watson says. For that class, the UCAT campus brought in an instructor from Weber State University to provide onsite training at Autoliv.
Watson says that over the years, our local UCAT campus has been an invaluable partner, developing custom training modules, staying on top of industry trends and serving as a resource for local companies. “It definitely makes our job easier, having that resource,” he says.
He adds that all of the campuses have both cutting-edge equipment and experienced instructors.
“All of our faculty come from industry, they have a core understanding of the industry and its processes,” says Dana Miller, president of the Southwest Applied Technology College campus, adding that students learn on “the best, top-of-the-line machinery and are industry-ready upon completion.”
Oftentimes, companies donate equipment to the schools so their employees will be trained on the exact equipment they’ll be using on the job. This benefits all UCAT students, who also get to train on the latest machinery.
UCAT provided Custom Fit programs to 1,299 companies during last fiscal year, training nearly 13,000 workers, according to UCAT President Rob Brems. “UCAT is committed to partnering with local business to increase the effectiveness of Utah’s workforce.”

Discovering a Career

For individuals, UCAT campuses offer a direct route to higher-paying careers. Many high school graduates face steep obstacles to attending college, from below-average grades to financial pressures to uncertainty about their career goals. UCAT campuses offer these students a path to challenging and rewarding careers—a path that may eventually lead to further education, but may also quickly lead to a well-paying job.
That was the experience of Amber Avila, who decided to begin taking courses at the Tooele Campus during a period of unemployment. Her goal was to complete the front office support program, and to that end she began taking Microsoft Office courses.
Avila continued to seek employment while enrolled in her courses and says, “I ended up getting a job immediately.” Her course completions proved to potential employers that she was proficient in Excel, Word, PowerPoint, Outlook and other software programs—making her stand out from other candidates.
“I had proof that I actually was an expert in those programs. That definitely got their attention,” she says.
Now, she does production scheduling for Food for Health International, a company that manufactures raw-food powders for use primarily in the food-storage industry. “This is the best job I’ve ever had,” she says. “I went above just the front office support because of my Microsoft expertise.”
For Avila, the Tooele ATC provided the low cost and flexibility she needed. But more importantly, she says, “In my entire educational experience, I’ve never had teachers who were that interested in helping me succeed.”
Avila intends to continue her studies in the future and sees her UCAT coursework as the first step in a longer journey. Indeed, UCAT’s partnerships with colleges enable students to use their certificate as a stepping stone to additional higher education. The Mountainland ATC developed an articulation agreement with Utah Valley University allowing MATC students who have completed 900 hours of instruction in eight different program areas to receive up to 30 credits toward UVU’s Associate of Applied Science degree in technology.
Dixie ATC also has an agreement with Dixie State University allowing articulation to take place in every certificate program offered. Dixie ATC is leading the pack with these agreements and enjoys a very close working relationship with Dixie State University. “At the request of industry, we have taken every step possible to form these critical agreements with our partners in higher education,” says Kelle Stephens, Dixie ATC president. “Our partnership with Dixie State University elevates both student achievement as well as technical training in general.”

 

Bringing Jobs Back

For one company, Custom Fit training has been key to bringing manufacturing jobs back to Utah from oversees.
Orbit Irrigation, which manufactures irrigation products, is headquartered in Bountiful, Utah, but has manufacturing plants in several offshore locations. Manufacturing products overseas causes several difficulties for Orbit. For example, if a product is manufactured in China, it can take several weeks for inventory to arrive. If there is sudden, unexpected demand for a product, the company may not be able to immediately fill all of its orders. “If the weather breaks, we can sell a month’s worth of inventory in one week,” says Jeff Maughan, vice president of global operations for Orbit.
On the other hand, storing large amounts of inventory—to cushion against these fluxes in demand—is costly.
Orbit Irrigation used a Custom Fit training grant to implement the Value Analysis/Value Engineering (VAVE) process. “This takes ‘lean’ to a new level on a product basis,” explains Maughan. Four Orbit product teams learned about the VAVE process, and then each team applied the analysis to a different Orbit product. The teams looked at every single component of a product, conducted a cost analysis and examined the manufacturing process.
“We looked for every opportunity to take cost and labor out of the process,” he says.
As a result, the company garnered a 26 percent cost reduction for one product and a 14 percent reduction for one of its valves. “These are high-value items in our inventory,” says Maughan. “They’re also long-lead-time products coming out of China.”
Cost savings such as these have enabled Orbit to bring much of its manufacturing back to Utah. So the direct result of the Custom Fit training—which leveraged the company’s training dollars with financial assistance from the state—was a significant number of new, high-paying jobs for the local economy.
The Custom Fit program is intended to help companies increase productivity, remain competitive or expand the pool of skilled workers. The training can focus on technical skills, specific industry certifications or business development skill sets.
“The employer is in charge. It’s their program,” says Bouwhuis.
In Utah, the UCAT system stands ready to help individuals advance their careers and to enable businesses to thrive and expand. “Our goal is to create a pipeline of students that are trained for your particular needs,” says Bouwhuis.

Utah System of Higher Education

The Utah College of Applied Technology is only one feature of Utah’s higher education landscape. The state is home to world-renowned research institutions, numerous other state universities and colleges, and top-notch private colleges.

The Utah System of Higher Education includes eight public colleges, including the three research universities, USU, U of U and BYU. The University of Utah is the state’s flagship research institution; its schools of medicine, engineering and science—among many others—produce cutting-edge research and technology every year. Indeed, the U rivals MIT for the number of spin-off companies created based on university-developed technology. Additionally, the school more than doubled its engineering grads over the past 15 years, growing the talent pool for the local tech community.

Utah State University, based in Logan, has a strong focus on undergraduate research—its undergraduate research program is the second-oldest in the country. The school is home to the Space Dynamics Laboratory, and USU students have sent more experiments into space than any other university in the world.
In addition to the research universities, the Utah System of Higher Education includesSouthern Utah University, Weber State University, Dixie State University and Utah Valley University. Each of these schools fulfills a specific mission within the larger system. For example, SUU, based in Cedar City, is the state’s liberal arts and sciences university.
Two community colleges, Snow College and Salt Lake Community College, round out the educational package with career-oriented educational programs and college credits that transfer seamlessly to state universities.
Brigham Young University is a private research university that draws students from around the globe. In fact, only about a third of BYU students are from Utah. The university has garnered numerous accolades and top rankings, particularly for its renowned accounting program. Its law school was named the “Best Value Private Law School” in the National Juristin 2013.
Westminster College is a small, liberal arts college located in Salt Lake City. It offers more than 70 undergraduate and graduate academic programs. The school’s proximity to Utah’s slopes draws student athletes from across the country—and this year, 23 students from Westminster College competed in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
From medical innovation to PAC-12 athletics to student entrepreneurism, Utah’s educational network is fine-tuned to cultivate students, strengthen the local workforce, propel crucial research and, ultimately, bolster the state’s economy.