Best Way to Help Tech Sector is Boost Teachers’ Pay, says Nelson – By Brice Wallace, The Enterprise – Utah’s Business Journal | April 25-May 1, 2016

One way to help Utah’s high-tech sector is to boost new teachers’ starting pay, according to the leader of the state’s tech industry association.

Richard Nelson, president and chief executive officer of the Utah Technology Council (UTC), said at the group’s Annual Members Meeting that that move could help Utah become a top 10 state for education and help the state’s education system produce more qualified workers sought by the state’s tech firms.

A candidate for District 8 of the Utah State Board of Education, Nelson said he wants to increase the pay for new teachers – those in their first five years of teaching – by 25 percent to 50 percent, and he added that it can be done without raising taxes.

“The reason that I’m talking about this is, we are No.1 in every category for states in the country. No. 1, 2, 3. We may eke out a No. 5 in some category. We are literally No. 1 in every category, or top five in every Category, except one, and that’s education. … Within the next 10 years, what can we do to achieve that goal of being a top 10 education state?”

Nelson recently spoke with Esko Aho, former prime minister of Finland, during an event in Canada. Wanting to find the secret to Finland’s educational success, Nelson said Aho told him, “It’s all about getting the most brilliant students to become your teachers.”

“And I reflected on how we’re doing it here, frankly how we’re doing it throughout the United States: a trickle of our best, most brilliant students are going into teaching. He (Aho) said, ‘You’ve got to change that first,”’ Nelson said.

“We are doing so spectacularly as a state, as a community. We are the growth engine. We need to change this last major area to become a top 10 education state, including significantly increasing the pay of our younger starting teachers in the first five years.”

Gov. Gary Herbert has a suggestion regarding curricula. He called for a more-robust education about free-market capitalism so that high school graduates “know, in fact, that free-market capitalism has given us the best goods and services for the most people at the lowest prices of any system every devised by man in the history of the world.”

Herbert said there has been a loss of understanding about free-market capitalism at the same time as an embracement of a more socialistic approach. Referring to Bernie Sanders, Herbert said he is “puzzled” that a presidential candidate has been gaining traction as an avowed socialist, and he noted that Sanders attracted a crowd of 14,000 during a campaign stop in Utah.

“We’ve got to not only talk about STEM education – science, technology, engineering and math – we not only need to be a top 10 state when it comes to education achievement, but we’ve got to bring back the principles that have made America great,” Herbert said.

The governor thanked the crowd for its contribution to Utah’s success, which he described as “quite exciting. For some people it’s almost unbelievable.” Part of that success was reflected in job growth – in 2015. Utah led the nation in private-sector job growth nine of the 12 months.

The state’s tech sector now accounts for 10 percent of total Utah jobs. “We are emerging as one of the best high-tech states in the country today,” Herbert said. “We use the phrase ‘Silicon Slopes.’ It’s not just kind of a slogan name. It’s actually happening.”

Venture capital “is flowing into Utah in ways it’s never happened before,” said Herbert. The average deal in Utah is $58 million. Silicon Valley’s is perhaps $19 million. “They do a lot more, we do a lot fewer, but ours are bigger,” Herbert added. “Again, I like the trend. We need to increase that money for opportunities in our future [that] are going to be dramatic.”

Noting that 93 percent of tech firms in a recent survey indicated plans for hiring during the next year, Herbert described them as optimistic. “We are doing remarkably good things, and you are a big part of the reason why,” he said, adding that he and state legislators are “doing everything we can to empower the private sector, to give you the entrepreneur, the opportunity to be as successful as you can possibly be in a free-market, competitive society.”

One investment has been in STEM education. Utah invested $41 million between 2014 and 2016 to establish and open the STEM Action Center, and $10 million more is allocated for the 2016-17 fiscal year.

UTC’s 2015-16 annual report indicates a great need for more highly educated workers. The survey indicates that the 40 surveyed companies have 1,008 open positions. Ninety-five percent are looking for software developers, 70 percent recruit out-of-state talent to Utah, and 25 percent have opened offices outside Utah to get the technical talent they need. Seventy-five percent indicated they were having difficulty finding enough qualified candidates from Utah’s engineering or technical schools, up from 72 percent in 2014.

“We’re prioritizing STEM education and making sure that we’re going to have a labor force that you need to continue to grow and expand your businesses,” Herbert told the crowd.

“Good things are happening in Utah. We’ve empowered the private sector in ways that have never happened before, and you’re responding in dramatic fashion.”

By Brice Wallace, The Enterprise – Utah’s Business Journal | April 25-May 1, 2016