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In the race to fill engineering jobs, Utah is falling behind.
The state cannot keep pace with a growing high-tech corridor Gov. Gary Herbert refers to as the "Silicon Slopes," business and education leaders warn.
"We know it's a huge need," said Judy Young, executive director of the Utah Technology Council, which aims to foster high-tech development and protect 5,000 such companies in the state. "The jobs are here."
Young and others are renewing their call for students to study science and math in light of a recent UTC survey of 40 high-tech companies.
The state's flagship university turned out 750 graduates with engineering degrees in 2014, double the number since 2000. Still, it's not enough.
In Utah, the UTC survey found, there are 500 empty slots for workers with a bachelor's degree or higher in engineering or computer science. Employers reported that they expect the number of unfilled positions to grow more than threefold in the next year.
"There is virtually no risk of saturating the market for our graduates," said Richard Brown, dean of engineering at the University of Utah. "The demand can't be satisfied."
Since 2000, the number of high-tech companies in Utah has grown more than threefold from 1,500 to 5,000.
And UTC and advocates note the benefit is mutual for employers and employees. Half of those empty Utah jobs have a starting salary of at least $60,000 per year, with the national average for engineers reaching $93,000, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report.
Too few engineers isn't the only problem: Some recent graduates opt for greener pastures in Silicon Valley, fertile with tech giants including Google, Yahoo and Facebook and other companies. Others with new diplomas lack statistical expertise sought by a growing crop of data-focused companies.
In the survey, more than two in three participating high-tech companies reported struggling to find qualified candidates from Utah.
To fill the gaps, the software companies, manufacturers and other businesses are recruiting out-of-state engineers and opening branch offices in other markets.
Cathy Donahoe, vice president of human resources at business analytics company Domo, looks to the University of California, Berkeley and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for candidates adept at statistics modeling.
"We don't seem to be getting that out of Utah," said Donahoe, who participated in the UTC survey. The company draws on Utah computer science graduates for other roles.
Some Utah universities are attempting to increase cross-disciplinary training for science graduates.
At the U., Brown is trying to expand offerings for students through the Transformative Excellence program.
"You can expect for the U. of U. to get even stronger in statistics," he said.
At the same time Utah companies and universities try to meet the graduate shortage, there has been pushback against alarmist assessments of science and math graduate numbers.
On a national level, a recent study questioned the oft-reported shortage of engineers and computer scientists. Nearly three in four people with a bachelor's degree in science, technology, engineering and math commonly referred to as STEM do not have STEM jobs, the census reported in July.
Such graduates are more likely to be employed, but not necessarily in their chosen field of study, federal officials noted.
Young maintains high-tech graduates are needed across a variety of industries. "STEM is important across all fields, no matter what the industry," she said.
The state Legislature agrees. Lawmakers this year put $3.5 million toward a higher education engineering initiative.
"But the question is, are you subsidizing the California economy?" asked Brown.
Among U. engineering graduates who completed degrees in the past five years, 83 percent are working in Utah, according to a university study. Among master's and doctoral graduates, the number edges downward.
At DOMO, some interns wrap up their Utah summer stints to head for Silicon Valley.
"Their perspective was, I'm a technologist. And I want to go to mecca," Donahoe said.
The council declined to release details about which companies participated, but its members include local startups and multinational companies alike.
Adobe Systems Inc. did not respond to The Tribune's request for comment.
An Ebay Inc. spokeswoman said the company, which has had a Utah operation for 15 years, does not comment on hiring for specific locations.