Universities, colleges and businesses throughout the state stand in support of workforce alignment.
Pairing education with industry is no new concept to the higher education institutions in Oklahoma. In fact, each of Oklahoma’s 25 colleges and universities is involved in Oklahoma Works, Governor Mary Fallin’s initiative to develop a well-trained and educated workforce.
“Working with various advisory boards, we develop training on the credit and non-credit side to ensure that we are meeting identified industry needs,” says Robin Roberts Krieger, vice president of business and industry training & economic development at Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City. “We also work with specific business partners to run cohorts of their employees through our degree programs. This benefits both the students and the employer by the efficiencies gained by these cohorts.”
Increasing educational attainment is a key goal for the program. Ultimately, the Oklahoma Works initiative will make the state more attractive for investment. Research shows that higher educational attainment increases incomes, improves health and reduces expenditures on corrections and welfare.
“The ultimate goal is to increase attainment across the board and to make sure there are enough workers to fill the occupations that have been identified as critical to the state’s prosperity,” says Tony Hutchison, vice chancellor of workforce and economic development for the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education.
With all of the state’s colleges and universities working to meet the needs of the technical workforce, each has an important role to play. Producing engineers, scientists, marketing and logistics experts, IT specialists and associate’s degree holders and certificate holders in critical occupations and industries takes effort on all fronts.
“The two research universities — Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma — will take the lead in producing engineering degrees related to energy, aerospace, biotechnology and information technology,” says Hutchison. “Regional universities will play a major role in STEM degrees also. The University of Central Oklahoma has a strong relationship with Tinker Air Force Base, for example.”
Two-year colleges also have a major role to play, according to Hutchison. They produce highly technical certificates and associate’s degrees in many of the critical occupations and wealth-generating and support-system areas. They also assist the four-year colleges by launching students on their way toward a four-year degree.
Hutchison remarks that the degree paths won’t change much. “What will be different is that there will be new degree paths for non-traditional students that are already in the workforce or wanting to upgrade their careers to participate,” says Hutchison. “Adult degree completion pathways incorporate convenient times and on-line offerings for both associate’s and bachelor’s level degrees.”
The Process Technology Program (PTEC) is one of several participating in the Oklahoma Works initiative at Northern Oklahoma College. The PTEC program was put into place by working with industrial partners to provide a training program for operations and instrumentation for individuals.
The college’s graduates are employed in refining, oil and gas and power industries. The program is a two-year program that includes science, math, communication and job-specific training needed for the industries that employ the graduates.
“By working with industry partners, leaders of the program ensure that students receive the types of training and education desired by the companies that will ultimately be their employers,” says Frankie Wood-Black, director of process technology, Northern Oklahoma College. “We are looking to expand the program to accommodate more students and are looking at how to expand the program to provide more training for positions in the environmental fields to support not only these industrial partners but those in agribusiness as well.”
The Ultimate Goal
The partnerships between the Governor’s office, higher education, industry and business enable information to be transmitted between organizations with the key purpose of creating a well-educated workforce for Oklahoma. Collectively, these groups can identify and develop paths for prospective employees and employers to accomplish this goal. “This helps institutions like Oklahoma State University-Tulsa (OSU-Tulsa) develop and tailor academic program offerings to more effectively meet the needs of our state,” says Susan Johnson, assistant vice president for Academic Affairs at OSU-Tulsa.
“The Oklahoma Works initiative provides a platform to meet with employers and potential students to identify gaps in the education opportunities available here,” says Johnson. “Higher education institutions, like OSU-Tulsa, can focus our efforts on providing courses and degrees to help individuals and businesses achieve the desired outcome — more prospective employees with the skills needed to be successful.”