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Workforce development a high priority in the new year

Friday, January 05, 2024

By Brent Haken

Workforce development a high priority in the new year

Many of you have made New Year’s resolutions to improve your fitness, finances and mental health. Some of you will see them through, and some won’t.

For state leaders, this year’s goal is to bolster a new system for workforce development and narrow the skills gap for businesses and industries in need of highly skilled workers. It’s a promise state leaders plan on seeing through in 2024 and beyond.

Oklahoma CareerTech will play a starring role in the state’s plan to overhaul the way we deliver and fund workforce development in Oklahoma. The Oklahoma Workforce Commission, which was established last year with the passage of Senate Bill 621, will be developing a strategic plan for solving the state’s talent problem. Career and technology education is a solution worth tapping into.

While Oklahoma CareerTech is regularly recognized as one of the best CareerTech systems in the nation, the need for educational opportunities that emphasize career readiness is growing. Oklahoma CareerTech provides technical training to nearly half a million enrollments each year, but more can be done to reach more students and meet the labor demands of Oklahoma businesses.

Several Oklahoma industries – broadband, aerospace, health care, automotive and construction – are struggling amid a shortage of skilled workers.

CareerTech’s goal is to integrate academic skills into a real-world context by providing career-oriented courses, internships, apprenticeships and in-school programs that promote work readiness. The skills obtained in these programs equip students with immediately employable skills and valuable knowledge to build on as they enter the workforce. 

With additional funding, these programs can be expanded and more people can be added to Oklahoma’s pipeline of skilled workers.

More funding is needed to provide additional training in construction trades, health careers, manufacturing and 37 other new career pathway programs, including hospitality and tourism, agriculture, management and administration, public safety, and STEM. Additional funding for inmates participating in Skills Centers programs is also needed to accommodate increasing interest among officials at state correctional facilities.

As more Americans consider career readiness a top priority in education, the increased interest in career training has led to higher enrollments in the Oklahoma CareerTech System.

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.

In addition, membership in Oklahoma’s seven CareerTech student organizations such as FFA and TSA has jumped to an all-time high of 98,225.

We’re also seeing increasing participation in CareerTech programs among high school students in Oklahoma. More than 42% of all ninth through 12th graders in the state participated in a CareerTech program in fiscal year 2023.

State leaders understand that preparing students for careers has become a higher priority for Americans. More Americans now believe K-12 schools should redirect their efforts to equipping students with practical skills that prepare them for careers.

Many secondary students are not getting the help they need to evaluate their options and determine their best career paths. They are falling through the cracks amid a more complicated and outdated advising system that is overwhelming and confusing.

Students and employers are in search of high-demand skills. That’s where Oklahoma CareerTech comes in.

Oklahoma CareerTech has built a reputation for pursuing innovative ideas that break from tradition and the accepted paradigm. By thinking outside the box, Oklahoma CareerTech has been able to reach more students with customized training developed in tandem with Oklahoma businesses.

Sticking to your New Year’s resolutions and making them happen is hard. For state leaders, improving workforce development to lure more businesses to Oklahoma is a resolution we plan on keeping.

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 Jan 05, 2024