Students, teachers, and members of the local community gathered on Monday, Oct. 7 at the Miller Campus to discuss the future of technology in Utah.
Congressman Ben McAdams hosted the event with a slew of other panelists, which included Salt Lake Community College President Deneece Huftalin. The seminar aimed to encourage participation in terms of higher education and careers in areas such as science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
Panelist Sarah Jones, co-founder and COO of the Women Tech Council, says, “We don’t have enough people graduating to fill [STEM] jobs.”
Salt Lake City enjoyed a 31% jump in tech employment over the past ten years and 17.5% rise in STEM employment, placing fourth among U.S. cities best suited for tech graduates, according to Forbes.
However, panelists were quick to point out that in our ever-advancing technological age, the lines between STEM subjects and creative subjects such as art and writing are quickly merging.
“Often we talk about STEM and liberal arts education as though they are polar opposites. They are not,” Huftalin says. “Every industry now has some element of STEM and technology.”
Jones adds, “Choose something you’re passionate about and then figure out how to add tech onto it, rather than thinking ‘I have to go get a computer science degree.’”
When the audience was asked what kind of barriers came to mind when getting involved with STEM subjects, a slew of concerns were raised including college affordability, gender inequality in STEM fields and uncertainty with where to start.
McAdams addressed concerns citing his recently introduced legislation called the Finish Act, which provides grants to help those who have left the education system and are now desiring to return.
“We are at record low unemployment in the state, and we need people to come back into the workforce. There are jobs waiting,” McAdams says.
Huftalin brought up scholarship opportunities that go underutilized.
“80% of scholarships don’t get used because people don’t apply for them,” Huftalin says.
Huftalin also called on McAdams specifically for a possible change in policy around internships.
“No longer can students afford unpaid internships,” Huftalin says. “These students are often working and taking classes full time. They don’t have the luxury of taking time off [for an internship].”
Cindy Sanders, the director of strategy and business operations at Adobe, cited Adobe internships that pay engineering majors in college upwards of $45-$50 an hour. Adobe is one of the many companies with offices in Salt Lake looking to hire recent tech graduates.
“[Our job market] is evolving and changing so quickly; it’s important to have skills that are diverse and adaptable,” McAdams concludes.