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Utah students can get a job building airplanes straight out of high school under a new program announced Friday by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert.
The Utah Aerospace Pathways program, through the Davis Applied Technology College and Salt Lake Community College, will provide a targeted curriculum and place students in paid internships so they can receive an aerospace manufacturing certificate before they graduate.
"For young people looking for an exciting opportunity to develop their skills and have a good quality of life with a good-paying job, aerospace really fits that bill," Herbert said.
The program initially available only in Davis School District and Granite School District is funded through a $400,000 Department of Workforce Services grant.
Roughly 40 students are expected to participate in the program this year, but Herbert said the goal is to eventually expand to other districts and to look for similar partnerships in other industries. Herbert's educational goals have long centered on the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics collectively known as STEM. He said the future health of Utah's economy depends on qualifying workers for 21st-century jobs.
"Competition is key," he said. "We have to run just to keep up."
State leaders were challenged six months ago by Boeing executives to create a program to train students to work at the company's facilities, according to Val Hale, executive director of the Governor's Office of Economic Development.
He said the Pathways program came together through unprecedented collaboration between government, education and private business.
"It really has been a remarkable thing," he said. "I think this is a model that will serve Utah well, not just in the aerospace industry but other industries as we move forward."
Larry Coughlin, general manager of Boeing Salt Lake, said hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs are currently unfilled in the United States due to a shortage in qualified workers.
He said the biggest factor impeding Boeing's growth in Utah is limited access to a trained workforce.
"We need people," he said. "We need people that are not only qualified, but we need people who have a passion for technology and innovation."
Among the students who will take part in the program is Granger High School senior Josh Morril.
He said he plans to attend college after graduation. But he hasn't yet decided where to enroll or what to study, and a manufacturing certificate will provide him with more options while he makes up his mind.
"I enjoy working with my hands," he said. "This is just a good opportunity to get a job and work in that industry."