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CareerTech key to workforce development

Friday, February 24, 2023

By Brent Haken

CareerTech key to workforce development

Dental hygiene is one of the fastest growing professions in the nation, with employment of dental hygienists projected to grow 9% from 2021 to 2031, faster than the average growth for all occupations.

In Oklahoma, the average annual wage for a dental hygienist is $83,290, well above the average for all Oklahoma occupations ($48,360), according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Three of Oklahoma CareerTech’s 29 technology centers now offer training for students interested in becoming a licensed dental hygienist through a unique partnership with the College of Dentistry at the University of Oklahoma.

Tri County Technology Center in Bartlesville, Southern Oklahoma Technology Center in Ardmore and Western Technology Center in Weatherford are providing students a chance to earn a baccalaureate degree in dental hygiene from OU via distance learning technology. Students engage with instructors through lectures that are delivered live from the College of Dentistry via interactive video conferencing.

A minimum of 60 hours of prerequisite coursework from an accredited university or college is required.

The partnership with OU is just one of many examples of how Oklahoma CareerTech is working to meet the workforce needs of Oklahoma businesses and industries.

As state leaders explore new ways to improve workforce development, CareerTech’s mission to provide Oklahomans skills to enter the workforce and make informed career choices has never been more relevant. Several Oklahoma industries – broadband, aerospace, health care, automotive and construction – are struggling amid a shortage of skilled workers.

Oklahoma CareerTech is positioned to play a starring role in the state’s efforts to attract high-tech industries and provide highly trained workers. Recognized for having one of the best CareerTech systems in the nation, Oklahoma CareerTech has built a reputation for pursuing innovative ideas that break from tradition and the accepted paradigm.

Despite stagnant state funding, Oklahoma CareerTech has been able to reach more students with customized training developed in tandem with Oklahoma businesses. CareerTech enrollments totaled 446,940 in fiscal 2022, up from 426,125 in fiscal 2021. Tech center enrollments totaled 298,675 last fiscal year, up from 295,193 the year before.

Still, more can be done to reach more students and meet the labor demands of Oklahoma businesses. Increased funding could do a lot in reducing the long waiting lists for high school students wanting to enroll in CareerTech programs. More lawmakers, policymakers and educators are coming to realize they should be creating more opportunities for students to take industry-specific courses, empowering them to explore their career interests at an early age.

The skills obtained in these programs enable students to become immediately employable and convey valuable knowledge to build on as they enter the workforce.

The U.S. Department of Education found that eight years after their anticipated graduation date, students who participated in CareerTech courses in high school had higher median earnings than the students who did not participate in those courses.

What’s more, studies show CareerTech education reduces behavioral problems, increases connectedness within schools and reduces the rate of dropouts from all student groups, including the students who are at the greatest risk of dropping out of school.

For us, the goal is to get students career and college ready and to create a talent pipeline big enough to meet the workforce needs of every Oklahoma industry.

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

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

Last Modified on Feb 24, 2023
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