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CareerTech developing Oklahoma's economy and its workforce

Thursday, August 04, 2022

When Milo’s Tea Co. opened a new plant in Tulsa, it turned to Oklahoma CareerTech for employee training.

Milo’s conducted interviews at Tulsa Technology Center, which also provided safety, leadership and quality training for the new employees through Oklahoma CareerTech’s Training for Industry Program.

TIP is just one of the workforce development programs that the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education offers through the state’s network of 29 technology centers with 59 campuses across the state. Since 1968, the program has provided start-up training for almost every sector of industry: manufacturing; warehouse and distribution centers; aerospace; business services; biotechnology; food processing; and more. In fiscal year 2021, Oklahoma CareerTech provided training for 1,330 new jobs through TIP.

Other programs in CareerTech’s Workforce and Economic Development Division are adult and career development, customized training, small business services, small business incubators, Training for Industry Growth and firefighter training. In fiscal year 2021, CareerTech served more than 6,500 businesses through these programs and had more than 260,000 enrollments.

“The Workforce and Economic Development divisions of our 29 technology centers do a great job of maximizing and leveraging economic development initiative funding to provide state-of-the-art training to help improve the knowledge, skills and lives of their communities’ residents and employers,” said Max McKnight, Oklahoma CareerTech Workforce and Economic Development Division manager.

CareerTech’s 13 certified business incubators -- located at technology centers around the state -- provide space to entrepreneurs and small business owners -- like Ana Nunez, owner of Vida Bars, and Billy Turner, inventor of the TetherTech System.

Nunez started her business in her Oklahoma City home, first creating the solid bars of shampoo and conditioner in her kitchen and then moving the operation to her garage. Demand for Vida Bars outstripped what Nunez could do at home, however. When her family moved to Stillwater, she learned about the business incubator at Meridian Technology Center’s Center for Business Development.

After meeting with Meridian’s Business and Entrepreneurial Services staff members, she moved into the Center for Business Development’s light manufacturing space, where she found room to grow her business.

Turner, a trucking company owner, invented the TetherTech System in an effort to prevent fatalities caused by trucks losing wheels. He and his partners connected with Caddo Kiowa Technology Center in Fort Cobb and moved their new business into CKTC’s Business Development Center incubator.

There, they developed their system to keep all the wheels on trucks. The system runs a steel cable through an axle tube tethered to a pair of wheel end caps. If a bearing fails, the wheels don’t fly off the truck.

In 2020, TetherTech Safety landed a contract with the state of Oklahoma to put the product on all state tractor trailers.

In addition to space, technology center incubators also offer managerial, administrative and financial services. The Oklahoma Department of Commerce has conducted a thorough review of each incubator before certification.

Oklahoma CareerTech Workforce and Economic Development programs aren’t just for start-ups. They also provide customized training through the technology centers, which respond to the needs in their own communities. In fiscal year 2021, the CareerTech System provided customized industry training to 3,297 businesses and provided safety training to 1,596 businesses.

If multiple employers in an area need similar training, technology centers can use the Training for Industry Growth program to provide customized training that will meet the needs identified by those employers.

When Cosmetic Specialty Labs needed to invest in equipment maintenance, the company turned to Great Plains Technology Center for assistance. Representatives of the locally grown company visited Great Plains during a Manufacturing Month open house and saw training the tech center was doing for other companies like Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. and the Lawton Indian Hospital.

Great Plains business and industry personnel toured Cosmetic Specialty Labs and worked with the company to determine its needs before developing a training program. The program included a blended learning system for maintenance staff in which they attended class online and worked with a tech center instructor once a week at the company.

Then, Cosmetic Specialty Labs’ head of maintenance entered a one-year program that had actually been created for another local business.

“It is a great opportunity for the company to get employees the training they need to be successful in their roles and grow the entire company,” said Morgan Gould, Great Plains business and industry services director.


Small businesses and potential entrepreneurs can also find assistance to help them evaluate business ideas and help them grow their businesses through consulting services at CareerTech’s technology centers.

Section 37 Surveying and Mapping owners Marcus Heilman and Tyler Matthesen discovered how much a technology center’s business and industry services staff could help when they started their business. They had the surveying skills necessary for their business, but no experience in running a company.

Red River Technology Center helped the two create a business plan and strategy and offered training to help them grow their business. Heilman and Matthesen attended workshops at the tech center that covered topics like social media, taxes and branding and participated in Red River Tech’s small business roundtable discussions.

RRTC’s assistance helped Section 37 increase revenues: total invoices more than doubled in one year.

Oklahoma CareerTech’s workforce and economic development divisions at technology centers don’t just work with businesses. Staff members also work with individuals and with public safety entities.

Technology centers offer adult and career development classes that can help individuals upgrade existing skills and learn new skills to advance in their careers or obtain new jobs. The tech centers offer career development, continuing education and personal enrichment courses along with certifications in a variety of workplace skills. In fiscal year 2021, CareerTech’s adult and career development classes had 58,194 enrollments.

Technology centers across the state also work continually to help keep rural fire departments staffed with properly trained individuals. In some areas of the state, volunteer fire departments are the first responders. Oklahoma CareerTech delivers the training those firefighters need through tech centers’ workforce and economic development divisions.

Firefighter training can vary from just a few hours to courses that span weeks, months or even a year. Many technology centers have added special facilities -- like Tri County Tech’s rescue training tower, Northeast Tech’s rescue training center and Gordon Cooper Tech’s public safety training center -- in which they can train firefighters and other emergency responders.

In fiscal year 2021, Oklahoma CareerTech served 287 businesses with firefighter training and had more than 3,000 firefighter training enrollments. In addition, 1,596 businesses received safety training -- including courses in OSHA topics, CPR, fire safety, hazardous materials and even ladder safety. The safety training had more than 115,000 enrollments.

Oklahoma CareerTech’s vision is to develop a world-class workforces for Oklahoma industries and employers, and its mission is to prepare Oklahomans to succeed in the workplace, in education and life. It’s Workforce and Economic Development Division is a part of that vision and mission as it seeks to improve the state’s economy by providing individuals with the training and skills necessary to be successful in the workplace and by providing companies with the required workforce to compete globally.

Article by Laura Wilson
Photo of Ana Nunez, owner of Vida Bars, courtesy of Meridian Technology Center

Last Modified on Oct 20, 2023