CareerTech Left Out of Workforce Discussion
By Brent Haken
Acknowledging missed opportunities to lure new businesses to Oklahoma, state leaders are confronting the state’s shortage of skilled workers with plans to explore and overhaul the way we deliver and fund workforce development in Oklahoma.
We agree that more should be done to meet the state’s demand for highly skilled workers.
Enrollments within Oklahoma’s CareerTech System totaled 446,940 in fiscal 2022, and membership in Oklahoma CareerTech student organizations such as FFA and FCCLA has soared to an all-time high of 97,385.
Yet, Oklahoma can’t keep up with demand for skilled workers for high-growth industries. The waiting lists for training programs at many of the state’s 29 CareerTech technology centers remain insufferably long, despite higher enrollments amid stagnant state funding.
Oklahoma CareerTech has been training students of all ages for rewarding careers for more than 100 years and is well positioned to help meet the labor demands of Oklahoma’s growing economy. We think Oklahoma CareerTech can and should play a starring role in the state’s efforts to attract high-tech industries and provide highly trained workers.
However, we are disappointed and surprised that Oklahoma CareerTech has been excluded from a state task force, a workforce commission and a new select committee charged with reviewing and restructuring workforce development in the state. Oklahoma is regularly recognized by other states for having one of the best CareerTech systems in the nation.
Through an alliance of teachers, administrators and business owners, we think Oklahoma CareerTech has a lot to offer to the state’s plan to create a workforce solution and should have a seat at the table for these important discussions.
Since becoming an independent state agency in 1968, Oklahoma CareerTech has built a reputation for pursuing innovative ideas that break from tradition and the accepted paradigm.
Despite an expansion of career-based curriculums, the state and nation are facing an era of chronic skills shortages, the result of rapid automation, digital transformation and a workforce exodus of retiring baby boomers. Oklahoma companies are dealing with a growing talent problem, one that has the potential to become a strategic bottleneck.
Oklahoma CareerTech has been reaching more students with customized training developed in cooperation with Oklahoma businesses. Matching the talent with the needs of businesses can be complicated. That’s where CareerTech comes in.
Businesses haven’t been able to hire enough people with the right skills because the skills just keep changing. A strategy for upskilling is vital to the future of every business.
Our ability to respond quickly to changing workforce needs and bring innovation to Oklahoma classrooms is core to CareerTech’s mission. We have a long track record of breaking down barriers and building bridges between secondary schools, postsecondary schools and business and industry. This is the tenet behind career and technology education.
Because of its experience and long history of helping Oklahomans find rewarding careers, Oklahoma CareerTech should have a leading voice in the state’s discussions to improve workforce development. Right now, CareerTech is noticeably absent from several proposals to review and restructure the current system.
The state’s decision-makers should be fully informed about the potential growth of career and technology education in Oklahoma and what it can do to help solve the state’s talent problem. CareerTech has a lot to contribute to the discussion and can lend the expertise needed to craft a workforce solution that works for all Oklahomans.
If you would like to learn more, visit our website at okcareertech.org.
Brent Haken is the state director of the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education.