Chuck Mills, owner and president of Mills Machine Co. of Shawnee, has a passion for workforce and education. As a Key Economic Network (KEN) partner for Oklahoma Works, he engages businesses in education, community by community, to help students be better prepared for their future.
"As a KEN partner for Oklahoma Works, we basically take it community by community to sit and talk about how business leaders and educators can work together to help kids by pooling our resources and creating a plan," he said. "Business leaders can go into the schools to explain why they need to learn what they are learning to come work for the businesses in their community. We want to show them how to create their future."
Mills, along with other key partners in the state, is part of an aggressive workforce development program in Oklahoma designed to address the skills gaps that industries see in the state.
In 2014, Oklahoma unveiled a new initiative that connected businesses, state agencies and educators to address job opportunities and Oklahoma's skills gap. In 2017, Oklahoma Works will embark on phase two of the initiative.
Oklahoma Works is a statewide initiative that connects an unprecedented number of businesses, state agencies and educators. Stemming from "America Works," Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin's project while she was chair of the National Governors Association, the coalition of partners is aligning resources, education, training and job opportunities to build the state's workforce and reduce the skills gap.
"The initiative aims to ensure that all Oklahomans have the skills and education necessary to enter and advance in rewarding careers and Oklahoma businesses have the talented workforce they need to succeed," said Sarah Ashmore, Oklahoma Works coordinator. "Oklahoma is facing a significant skills gap, meaning experts predict a large number of Oklahomans must earn post-secondary degrees and credentials to have the minimum level of skill employers demand to continue to grow and prosper."
Oklahoma's Skills Gap
In 2015, 46 percent of Oklahoma's workforce had some sort of degree, certificate or credential. But by 2025, only 23 percent of the new jobs created in the state will be accessible to workers without any post-secondary education.
"That means our state faces a 23-point gap between the current educational attainment of Oklahoma's workforce and what will be needed in 10 years," Ashmore said. "The largest gap is in the area of associates degrees, certificates and credentials. Oklahoma Works has identified the top 100 critical occupations for the state and is working to better align education and training to the needs of Oklahoma's business and industry."
The benefits to employers include having a system in place that is responsible to their needs, she said, by engaging business and industry leaders to help inform Oklahoma Works about their needs. "They help to identify pressing workforce barriers and solutions," she said. "Oklahoma Works also connects business to qualified job seekers by bringing local training programs and resources to their unique, regional needs."
Oklahoma Works connects adults to job opportunities in high-demand industries and to local training and educational resources to help them change careers, get a promotion or earn more money. The program also helps youth find local training and education opportunities in high-demand areas within their communities.
The first phase of the Oklahoma Works initiative has been focused on creating a streamlined system, Ashmore said, including building relationships with state agency workforce partners and other agencies.
"We have built relationships with Key Economic Networks and the Governor's Council for Workforce and Economic Development to coordinate strategic priorities and plans across education, training and economic agencies," she said. "This is in order to increase alignment of education and training in support of Oklahoma's five wealth generating ecosystems."
Major milestones so far, include completion of a strategic delivery plan, the establishment of Key Economic Networks throughout the state, an asset map that outlines funding to the state's workforce development activities, the ability to track progress and measure success and earning additional funding and grant opportunities.
Mills says the groundwork is laid, but more is needed. "One thing we learned from an Oklahoma Works study was that technical skills are lacking, but so are soft, employable skills like showing up on time, being ready to work, being presentable and willing to learn," he said.
Opportunities abound in Oklahoma as new alliances, technologies and programs bring big ideas, skilled workers and financial incentives to The Sooner State.