Last week Tooele County School District presented 966 high school diplomas to deserving graduates from six local high schools and the adult education program. And in recent weeks, Utah State University – Tooele Regional Campus, and Tooele Applied Technology Campus, issued a combined 227 degrees and certificates to graduating students.
That’s a wealth of academic and vocational knowledge just made available to the Tooele County community. Congratulations to every graduate for their achievement. May every new graduate boldly step forward in pursuit of either more education or a job.
Thankfully, with USU and TATC in the community, we know that opportunities for higher learning are conveniently here. But when it comes to getting a local, high-paying job that requires a college degree or vocational certificate, the opportunities evidently are not as abundant — the evidence of which many of us see on state Routes 36 and 138 as thousands of commuters drive to and from the Wasatch Front for employment.
And that evidence prompts the eternal question: Are we doing enough as a community to make it possible for more high school and college graduates to achieve their adulthood ambitions right here?
The Utah Department of Workforce services reported in March that Tooele County’s unemployment rate was 3.6 percent, while the state’s rate was 3.1 percent. Just a month prior, the county’s unemployment rate was 3.3 percent, and that rate officially put the county’s economy in the “employee shortage” category, according to Intermountain Staffing’s Tooele office.
Yet, while the county may be experiencing a labor shortage, it remains to be seen if that shortage and market forces will cause an increase in local wages. Wage data for the fourth quarter of 2016, the most recent data on wages available from DWS, show that the average monthly wage in Tooele County was $3,277 compared to the statewide average of $3,703.
The average wage in the county has declined since 2015, which is tied to the closure of the Deseret Chemical Depot, according to a DWS report on Tooele County.
Many local residents continue to work outside of the county (at least 50 percent or greater, according to the DWS), but growth of local jobs did outpace the statewide average for job growth during February by two percent.
A DWS report in March said the job market in Tooele County has risen back to a peak in 2011 and is poised to grow beyond that. Most of the job growth in the county has been in warehousing, health care and federal government job markets, according to DWS data.
But the county lagging behind the rest of the state in average monthly wage certainly doesn’t serve as an incentive for the local labor market — and recent high school and college graduates — to stay and work local.
It is hoped with time, and purposeful efforts by local officials to boost job and wage opportunities here, that more high school and college graduates will find good reason to earn their pay closer to home. It is regrettable to have our brightest graduates continue to search elsewhere for greater employment opportunities.