States, regions, businesses and higher ed resources are joining forces in an aggressive and innovative effort to fill the skilled labor shortage in the United States.
Four U.S. governors recently participated in a panel discussion focused on the chronic shortage of skilled workers in the United States; the panel, part of the Milken Global Conference in Los Angeles, was moderated by Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google’s parent corporation, Alphabet. The governors all had the same message: the United States is in a global competition for 21st-century jobs and, if we don’t have the skilled workers needed to fill the requirements of advanced manufacturers or emerging players in new high-tech growth sectors, the U.S. will lose this worldwide competition and its long-held crown as the heavyweight champ of industrial giants.
So the bad news is that the skilled-labor gap, which we’ve detailed on the pages of BF for several years, still has not been bridged. There’s no shortage of bright young graduates coming out of our colleges and universities, which are still the best in the world; they’re matriculating by the tens of thousands. The key to bridging the gap is workforce training: making sure our graduates have the necessary skills to move directly into the high-tech workplace as soon as they get their diplomas.
Here’s the good news: most of the states (and the federal government) got the memo (Workforce Training is Job One) and they are moving aggressively to put in place innovative and highly effective workforce training programs that put forward-thinking businesses and higher education resources on the same team. In this annual report, we showcase locations that are out in front in the skills race.
Focus on Manufacturing in OK
Oklahoma’s workforce development is focused on filling the talent shortfall gap that exists in its manufacturing industry, which is interwoven into five key economic systems in the state, contributing more than $18 billion to the economy, employing over 140,000 people and representing more than 4,000 companies. Nationally, there are an estimated 600,000 unfilled manufacturing jobs and this number is expected to climb as high as 3 million by 2018. According to a report from the Oklahoma Educated Workforce Initiative, the state has a 23-point gap between its current workforce and the skilled workforce necessary by 2020.
Studies show that people who are familiar with manufacturing are twice as likely to consider careers in manufacturing, which has an average annual compensation of around $60,000 in Oklahoma. That’s why Oklahoma is leveraging national, state, local and industry-led workforce development initiatives to ensure an agile workforce and the skills needed for the state to achieve greater productivity, innovation and global economic competitiveness.
The Oklahoma Works initiative brings all of the state’s workforce resources together, connecting employers, employees, job seekers and higher education to ensure businesses have access to a pipeline of talent. It offers key workforce training programs such as the Training for Industry Program (TIP), which helps companies create the quality workforce it needs to be successful, at little or no cost. TIP is delivered through Oklahoma’s system of 59 technology center campuses across the state providing services such as job analysis, training needs assessment, pre-employment training, pre-production training, post-production training, instructional materials and development, training supplies and more.
Another successful initiative is OK2GROW, a small business driven workforce development and career pathways nonprofit focused on entrepreneurship, high school completion and career awareness activities. Programs include the Scholarships to Success entrepreneurship program, the High School Completion Coalition and Dream It Do It Oklahoma, which all create awareness of careers and promote pathways that build confidence and excitement for workplace success.
The state also works with nationally recognized credentialing programs to prepare students for career opportunities: ACT National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC), MSSC Certified Production Technician (CPT), the National Institute for Metal Working Skills (NIMS) machining credentials, the American Welding Society (AWS) Certified Welder credentials and the certification programs of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME).
The Tulsa Career Production Technician (CPT) High School program teaches students skills such as workplace safety, quality practices, manufacturing production and maintenance awareness. The coursework is supplemented with weekly manufacturing-related field trips as well as the opportunity students have during the spring semester to work with area employers in paid internships. At the end of the year, students who successfully complete the CPT class will have earned their OSHA 10 and 30 certifications as well as gained the nationally recognized status of CPT.
The program was offered at Tulsa Public Schools and most recently, Charles Page High School in Sand Springs. OK2Grow and Dream It Do It help the CPT classes with workplace visits, guest speakers and payment for some of the student interns.
“At Tulsa Public Schools, the CPT program has provided practical, hands-on experiences and opportunities for students to see industry first hand,” said Taylor Hill-Taylor, Director of College and Career Readiness at Tulsa Public Schools. “This certification that is earned has allowed our students to find employment and seek higher education opportunities while earning a livable wage. This program affords students opportunities to gain knowledge while in a safe environment and then translate those skills into an opportunity for advancement. While only in our second year of offering the CPT program, the value of students gaining industry recognized certifications and being able to progress into future trainings is of the highest benefit.”
Across the state, communities are taking workforce training into their own hands, developing local programs to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education among middle and high school students and prepare for a skilled workforce. One example is “STEM City,” a program of the Lawton-Fort Sill Economic Development Corporation to help prepare young people for high-tech jobs and diversify the economy.
According to the Lawton-Fort Sill Economic Development Corporation, some of the most advanced technologies are being developed at Fort Sill, where the military and schools are working together to bring STEM education into communities. The military base impacts nearly 26 districts throughout the state.
Great Plains Technology Center in Lawton offers pre-engineering and biomedical science programs that have been in existence for nearly 10 years. Great Plains also has strong computer science programs that have proven successful in preparing students for continued education and entry into the workforce. The center’s pre-engineering courses are offered at all three Lawton high schools.
“Fifteen years ago businesses were looking for incentives, but today the top question is workforce and education,” says Tom Deighan, superintendent of Lawton Public Schools. “My heart’s desire is that [Lawton] becomes recognized as a premier educator and that every one of our students graduates with a career, whether it’s off to college or a technical degree. We need people who are adaptable, and we want to become a graduation factory.”
GE recently sponsored a week-long STEM program for up to 50 students at the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics (OSSM) and launched an open innovation challenge. The initiatives are part of STEM Empowers OK, and will invite students from schools throughout the state to share ideas. Much of the funding from the GE Foundation will support internships, mentoring and scholarship opportunities for Oklahoma students, as well as a new summer GE STEM Fellowship program for Oklahoma teachers. The Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST) will manage the Open Innovation Challenge.
“Through STEM Empowers OK, we will engage a new generation of scientists and engineers across Oklahoma,” said Jeff Immelt, chairman and CEO, GE. “We could not ask for better partners than OCAST and OSSM. These organizations support new entrepreneurs and future scientists and engineers who are motivated to solve the world’s toughest challenges.”
Oklahoma’s booming aerospace field, accounting for more than 120,00 jobs, is presenting additional opportunities for workforce development. The Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education (CareerTech) initiative offers specialized courses and detailed training programs to fill the request for skilled aerospace employees. The program allows both high school students and adults to work with giants like Tinker Air Force Base and the state’s technical colleges, including Francis Tuttle Technology Center in Oklahoma City, Mid-Del Technology Center and Gordon Cooper Technology Center.
In April 2015, Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett and education officials announced the launch of the Tulsa Tech Aerospace Academy for area high school students, a program that began last fall at the Tulsa Tech Riverside Campus. Students take classes in aviation maintenance, network technician training, cyber security and private pilot ground school.