The WIRED, or Workforce Innovations in Regional Economic Development, is an exciting State-level Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) initiative that provides workforce development support to the life science industry. It is anticipated that the needs for a robust and diverse “pipeline” of talent will grow as USTAR matures and supports the creation of companies in Utah. The WIRED initiative, and its related activities, is funded by a $5.16 M grant from the US Department of Labor and the Employment and Training Administration. The success of the WIRED initiative is largely due to the highly collaborative nature of the program. The WIRED partners include representation from public and higher education, government and philanthropic or community groups. Industry plays a key, integrative role by defining the current and future needs of the life science industry. Thus, all activities and programs that are a part of the WIRED initiative reflect the input of industry.
The partners engaged in the WIRED initiative work to develop and implement programs and activities that focus on outreach and recruitment, training and education. The outreach activities target the “K-grey” audience recognizing that if Utah is to meet the future needs for a science and technology literate workforce then outreach activities must have a broad impact. The WIRED initiative has launched several outreach programs for K-12 students that fully engage students in learning how STEM applies to many of their own interests such as sports and fitness, cooking, digital media or gardening. The education and training programs being supported by WIRED are breaking the boundaries of traditional education programs. The have a dual focus of bringing conceptual and applied knowledge to students. As a result, graduates of these programs are “workplace ready” for both existing life science companies as well as those that are a result of USTAR’s efforts.
There are several innovative WIRED programs, such as the training incubator BioInnovation Gateway (BiG) and InnovaBioTM that provide unique training opportunities for students in an entrepreneurial environment. The BiG gives a fresh look to the business incubator model by providing equipped lab facilities to start-up companies that are eager to take advantage of enthusiastic high school and undergraduate interns that are looking to gain training for life science employment. This internship opportunity is innovative in that it gives student interns a glimpse into the entrepreneurial world of life sciences. The InnovaBioTM project builds off of a successful program at Salt Lake Community College (SLCC: a WIRED partner). The InnovaBioTM program is adapted from the contract research organization (CRO) business model. Life start-up companies can contract projects to InnovaBioTM and the interns in the program work as teams to conduct the research. The intern teams are supervised by the full-time InnovaBioTM research directors.
Dr. Tami Goetz, the Utah State Science Advisor and who is the lead for the WIRED initiative sees the WIRED initiative as “creating the crossroads where economic and workforce development partner with education and training to provide excellent job opportunities for Utahn’s and meet the talent needs of the life science industry.” She goes on to say that “a strength of the WIRED initiative is that it looks at what we as a State are doing well and builds on those successes. Yet at the same time the partners in the initiative are looking to the future to ensure that we do not miss any evolving needs for the industry.”
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State Science Advisor