In conjunction with the Utah System of Higher Education's efforts to strengthen the state's workforce in technical fields, Utah State University has hired Zak Konakis as a regional pathways coordinator.
As part of the new position in USU’s Office of the Provost & Chief Academic Officer, Konakis will work to further establish pathways among technical colleges, USU and other state and industrial entities increase opportunities for students and identify workforce needs.
"I look forward to creating pathways that will serve the students in technical education to have an opportunity to thrive in their future careers through opportunities with expanded coursework," Konakis said.
Konakis, a professional practice assistant professor un the College of Agriculture & Applied Sciences, has already been engaged in similar efforts since 2018 as USU Eastern's pathways coordinator.
"The (new regional) position expands in the various areas added into the role and the different characteristics of the Uintah Basin, Cache Valley, and Tooele areas and the similarities and differences between these areas compared to the southeastern region," Konakis said.
The new position comes at a time when employers in nearly all industries, but especially those requiring specialized skills, are finding difficulty hiring qualified workers.
"I am unaware of a skilled work environment that is fully staffed and has no immediate openings for high-wage positions," Konakis said. "In many of my interactions, these employers ask for a skilled workforce trained in a timely manner that doesn’t require relocation for their existing employees to increase their skills, knowledge and abilities."
Under the state's Regional Pathway Implementation Plan, USU and four other schools — Southern Utah University, Utah Tech University, Utah Valley University and Weber State University — will each coordinate pathway development in career & technical education in their respective regions.
The new pathways coordinators are tasked with helping universities and colleges collaborate with industry partners to be more responsive to rapidly evolving workforce needs and increase opportunities through internships and job placements. They will also work with the technical colleges in their universities' respective regions to identify "stackable" programs to help ensure that further education opportunities build on work students have already done rather than making them feel like they're starting over.
"Students often begin their technical training to earn a certificate but then grow in different areas and pursue a degree or other training," Konakis said. "The welding program in Price is an excellent example of students intending only to earn a certificate for a job but then pursue their degree in welding engineering once they realize they enjoy the coursework."
From the other end, students may feel more encouraged to pursue technical certificates early in their academic careers when there are established pathways toward degrees and other opportunities.
"For these certificates: We call them skills to pay the bills, and it helps to have a trade to help pay for the bachelor’s degree," Konakis said.
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