In the following Q&A, Tony Hutchison, Vice Chancellor of Strategic Planning, Analysis and Workforce and Economic Development for the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, discusses how Oklahoma’s Higher Education system works to ensure that businesses have the pipeline of talent they need to succeed.
Q. Oklahoma recently exceeded its Complete College America target. What does that mean for Oklahomans and for businesses that operate in the state?
A. Oklahoma’s success in the college completion initiative will have very tangible results for Oklahoma business. Not only is the economy changing rapidly, requiring a more educated workforce, but a huge demographic, in terms of baby boomers, are moving into retirement years. For Oklahoma to have a workforce that meets the economy’s needs, we will need to make sure more high school graduates proceed on to complete post-secondary credentials ranging from certificates to associate degrees to BAs and graduate programs. The need to churn out a more educated work force is undeniable. While the biggest percentage growth will be at the certificate and associate degree level, there will be significant challenges at the bachelor degree and post baccalaureate levels too. The baby boomers are a highly educated group and replacing them at the same time jobs are requiring even more education is a daunting challenge.
Q. Describe OKHigherEdConnect.org and what it has to offer Oklahoma businesses or businesses looking at operating in the state?
A. OKHigherEdConnect.org is an online searchable database of higher education business support services, offering a one-stop source for services Oklahoma colleges and universities can provide businesses ranging from business plan help to consulting to interns or talented new hires.
Q. What traits do today’s a student have that will make them great assets to the state and businesses?
A. Today’s students have strong skill sets that include not only traditional communication skills, but digital skills that can translate into the digital marketplace. Students have grown up networking on mobile devices and can easily bring their business skills, as well as problem solving skills, to bear to benefit a business. Many students also have strong quantitative and analytic skills that can translate into success in IT, finance and engineering related jobs. Completing college is a journey that requires lots of soft skills that employers say they want.
Q. How does your team work with the Oklahoma Department of Commerce and businesses to ensure a pipeline of talent is ready?
A. We identify the talent pools of specific college graduates to fit the parameters of each Commerce project, and include examples of research and existing public-private partnerships in the same industry to show the current support structure for similar businesses. The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education have sophisticated databases of graduates, degrees by discipline and how those degrees have been utilized in different industries that may be helpful when the Department of Commerce is looking for workforce solutions. We also connect businesses to colleges and universities through their career services offices. This level of engagement yields a greater pool of qualified applicants for businesses.
(Photo courtesy of University of Oklahoma, Robert H. Taylor)