Talent Stalemate: A Trilateral Plan for Socioeconomic Development


Dear Utah executives, legislators, and educators:

We’ve talked about this for far too long. It’s time to act.

In Utah, like in many other states, we have a talent stalemate: while high-tech jobs provide enormous opportunity for socioeconomic growth for our young people, companies are complaining that they can’t fill them despite the increasingly higher salaries they’re offering.

Unfortunately, the stalemate continues with companies, universities, and local government all arguing they can’t solve this problem on their own. They’re right: all three must participate in a trilateral cooperative that can have immense impact both on our young populace and on our economy as a whole over the coming decades.

At the heart of the proposal outlined in this article is a plan based on three components:

  1. Applied Education: New “applied” degree programs offered by our universities alongside existing research-oriented degree programs.
  2. Apprenticeship Employment: A technology apprenticeship component that is key to an applied education, and that promotes developing applied skills in areas of most demand while providing companies with access to junior talent.
  3. Alternative Execution: An out-of-the-box mindset to making this happen: universities’ willingness to engage in apprenticeship-based education, companies’ willingness to employ junior technologists who will grow with them, and the state’s willingness to subsidize the program and to provide tax incentives for businesses to provide their training facilities for the program.

While it’s not my intention to detail every aspect of the proposal, I’d like to provide enough of an outline so as to begin actionable conversations that can ultimately result in the refinement and execution of this program.

1. Universities

Their Challenges

Universities’ two primary obstacles are:

  1. Limited space: many of our departments are already at their physical capacity making it difficult to either expand class sizes or add additional classes or sessions.
  2. Limited faculty for teaching: technology and science faculty are at a premium and, admittedly, with some departments’ research-oriented missions, it’s hard to find enough faculty bandwidth for expanded course curricula.

Their Investment in the Solution

Universities can contribute to this solution by:

  1. Applied degree programs: developing and operating parallel, applied degree programs (e.g., “Applied Software Engineering”) that take the critical aspects of academic degree programs (e.g., Computer Science) and join them with more practical aspects such as industry tools, commercial paradigms, and real-world apprenticeship experience. To a world-class research university such as the University of Utah, this would be a big paradigm shift.
  2. Off-campus classrooms: expanding their use of e-education where possible combined with holding courses off-campus at participating businesses who provide their training rooms for these courses.
  3. Increased adjunct faculty: augmenting their full-time, tenure-track faculty with part-time, adjunct faculty members from the local community who, with fair compensation, can add a great deal of practical context to the applied degree programs.


2. Companies

Their Challenges

Companies’ two primary obstacles are:

  1. Talent-constrained growth: companies are talent-starved and are embroiled in a daily battle with their peers to recruit and retain the best talent. It’s a constant struggle: just when an employee is trained, relevant, and impactful, they’re recruited away by a nearby company willing to pay more causing the company to replace her by luring a replacement in the same manner. The result is spiraling cost increases (certainly not a bad thing for the talent that can fill these positions) combined with, more importantly, a constraint on the company’s growth rate.
  2. Pressure to outsource/virtualize: eventually, inflated compensation creates a compelling value proposition for the company to outsource the function to an overseas vendor in Eastern Europe, the Near East, or Latin America.

Their Investment in the Solution

Companies can contribute to this solution by:

  1. Hiring apprentices: while its popular to hire staff starting at “3 to 5 years of experience,” few companies are willing to bet on junior employees eager to establish themselves. In order for this program to work, companies would have to commit to hiring apprentices (likely in their junior and senior years of applied degree programs) for minimal (or no) cash compensation, but while covering 50%-75% of their tuition. In return, apprentices would commit to work for the company for a duration equal to their apprenticeship post-graduation (for market rate wages).
  2. Allow use of their training facilities: provide use of their training rooms to university applied degree programs in return for a tax credit from the state (the credit would be higher for day-time hours use than for off-hours use).


3. Government

Their Challenges

State government’s primary obstacle is a simple and clear one: where does the money come from? Without the private sector’s help, it’s difficult to burden our tax base with all of the costs of such a program.

Their Investment in the Solution

State government can contribute to this solution by:

  1. Tuition match for apprentices: matching between 50% and 100% of every tuition dollar paid by private sector employers of apprentices.
  2.  Tax credits for company training space: providing token tax incentives for companies that provide their facilities for the use of university applied programs.


What can you do to help?

If you’d like to help, please endorse this plan with your corporate executives and colleagues, state and federal legislators, and University faculty and administrators. More importantly, please encourage your younger family members to consider careers in the fields we have high demand for over the coming decade:

Credit: PandoLabs Institute

Let’s overcome this stalemate once and for all.

Sincerely yours,

Bassam Salem

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