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Workforce investment should reflect demand

Thursday, February 08, 2024

By Brent Haken

Workforce investment should reflect demand

Improving workforce development, recruiting new businesses and retaining existing businesses are high priorities for state leaders as they begin the 2024 legislative session.

Meeting these goals will require more skilled workers and thus more opportunities for career training in Oklahoma.

State lawmakers will soon be introducing legislation that would bolster Oklahoma’s statewide system for career and technology education, helping it close the skills gap for industries in need of highly skilled workers.

Oklahoma CareerTech, which provides career training through a network of 397 school districts, 29 technology centers and 16 Skills Centers, is seen by many as the chief catalyst for expanding career readiness programs in education and meeting the state’s workforce goals.

Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell, who was recently named Oklahoma’s secretary of workforce and economic development, said continued investment in CareerTech programs is “key” to Oklahoma’s workforce development success.

“It’s no secret that our CareerTech system is one of the best in the country,” Pinnell said. “Our 29 technology centers provide 121 unique degree programs, giving Oklahomans across all 77 counties the opportunity to turn their passions into a paycheck.”

We agree with Gov. Kevin Stitt and other state leaders that more can be done to meet the labor demands of Oklahoma employers.

The waiting list for students wanting to enroll in full-time training programs at CareerTech’s 29 technology centers remains insufferably long at about 7,500 students. In addition, nearly 40% of Oklahoma’s high school graduates choose not to attend college or pursue technical training, which means the potential for increasing the number of CareerTech graduates is significant.   

Meanwhile, state funding for technology center programs has declined from $58.27 million in fiscal year 2015 to $50.46 million in fiscal 2024. That’s a 13.4% decrease in state funding, a concerning trend, especially as more Americans believe career readiness should be a higher priority in secondary education.

According to the U.S. Departments of Education, Labor and Commerce, 70% of all jobs will require education or training beyond high school by 2027. By all accounts, the need for educational opportunities that emphasize career readiness is growing, which means the mission of Oklahoma CareerTech has never been more relevant.

Also, every full-time CareerTech program is developed in tandem with Oklahoma businesses. Every program offered in middle schools, high schools and tech centers is overseen by an advisory panel made up of industry experts and educators. This ensures the skills we teach are practical and in demand by Oklahoma employers.

If we want to improve workforce development, lure new businesses to the state and retain existing businesses, we’re going to have to make a serious investment in workforce education. This investment in career readiness should reflect the state’s growing appetite for career training.

Oklahoma CareerTech’s budget request for fiscal year 2025 is $201,956,568, a 26% increase compared with CareerTech’s fiscal 2024 state appropriation.

The $41.75 million increase in state funding is the only way to eliminate the current waiting list at Oklahoma’s tech centers.

The request calls for an additional $37 million investment in workforce training, including $10.5 million for health careers, $8.1 million for construction trades and $7.6 million for manufacturing. The rest would be used to add 37 new career programs in the areas of agriculture; arts; information technology; management and administration; public safety; hospitality and tourism; audio/video technology and communication; and science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Pinnell said Oklahoma CareerTech is well positioned to close the skills gap and meet the labor demands of Oklahoma employers.

“Let’s continue investing in and promoting Oklahoma CareerTech,” he said. “The future of our state is counting on it.”

If you would like to learn more, visit our website at oklahoma.gov/careertech.

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

Last Modified on Feb 08, 2024