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A common vision for workforce development

Thursday, October 26, 2023

By Trae Rahill, Brent Haken and Melinda Fruendt

A common vision for workforce development

Confronting the state’s shortage of skilled workers, state leaders have developed a plan to improve coordination among state agencies and create a more formal structure for meeting the workforce needs of Oklahoma businesses.

A critical element of the state’s plan is a union of the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, Oklahoma CareerTech and the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services. Together, the three state agencies, under executive order from Gov. Kevin Stitt, are taking steps to align partners, services and resources under one common vision for improving workforce development.

The goal is to create a more streamlined and responsive workforce system that empowers job seekers and employers.

To that end, we have launched a comprehensive assessment to identify what’s working and what’s not. In addition, our self-examination will outline Oklahoma’s workforce challenges and the metrics we’ll use to measure the success of our efforts.

Concerns and challenges include the following: A 61.8% labor force participation rate; high school graduation requirements that don’t promote career readiness; more than 279,000 Oklahomans who don’t have a high school diploma; retention and growth of existing Oklahoma businesses; 32% of Oklahomans with a disability are not participating in the labor force; Oklahoma’s high school graduation rate of 79.9%.

Oklahoma’s workforce delivery system is complicated and diverse. Addressing these challenges has been difficult. A more coordinated and unified workforce system is expected to help the state overcome these challenges and provide highly trained workers for high-tech industries.

Spearheading this optimization and transformation of Oklahoma’s workforce system will be the Oklahoma Workforce Commission, a new state entity that will be composed of business, industry and government leaders. Under the new structure, OESC will oversee funding from the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity ACT. The Workforce Commission will oversee and coordinate the effort to reshape the state’s workforce strategy and increase labor participation.

While we agree that more should be done to meet the state’s demand for skilled workers, each one of our agencies has made a meaningful impact in empowering students and adults to explore their interests and find rewarding careers.

In fiscal year 2022, DRS assisted nearly 11,500 Oklahomans with disabilities from Vocational Rehabilitation and Services for the blind and visually impaired. During the same period, DRS provided transition and pre-employment transition services to nearly 4,000 Oklahoma youth with disabilities. Through 236 regional partnerships with Oklahoma employers, DRS unites talent with opportunity and assists employers with finding employees they can count on.  

Through a network of 29 technology centers, 397 PK-12 school districts, 16 skills centers sites and 32 adult education and family literacy providers, Oklahoma CareerTech enrollments totaled 489,635 in fiscal year 2023, up 9.5% compared with fiscal 2022. CareerTech’s positive placement rate was 94% in 2022, which means nearly all CareerTech graduates found employment, entered the military or continued their education.

With 27 offices statewide and 18 community outreach locations, OESC provides services tailored to job seekers and employers. For employers, OESC can find and screen job candidates, conduct hiring events and orientations of new employees and provide free fidelity bonding and tax incentives for hiring at-risk or underserved workers. Job seekers can receive help with writing resumes, submitting applications, conducting practice interviews and learning about the job market and job requirements in their area.

By coordinating resources in a unified effort, we can align the services and programs of all three state agencies to match skilled workers with potential employers quickly and more efficiently. These moves reflect a comprehensive strategy around a statewide coordinating body for stakeholders involved in workforce development. We think it will change the state’s workforce ecosystem for the better.

Trae Rahill is chief executive officer of the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. Brent Haken is state director of the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education. Melinda Fruendt is executive director of the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services.

If you would like to learn more about Oklahoma CareerTech, visit our website at

Brent Haken is the state director of the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education.

Last Modified on Oct 26, 2023