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Grow Oklahoma

OKCareerPlanner.com is one of the early achievements of the diverse group of state leaders called the Governor’s Council for Workforce and Economic Development.

The Council was formed in 2004 by Gov. Brad Henry, who wanted to coordinate the efforts of two groups of people who at the time were barely aware of each other: economic developers working to expand and attract business in Oklahoma and workforce professionals working to develop the state’s workers and help them find jobs. These were people who needed each other.

Developing the Grow Oklahoma Campaign

Early on, the Council conducted surveys of major industry employers about current and future workforce challenges and needs, studied the fast changing educational environment, and listened to students talk about how they choose a career path or decide whether to stay in Oklahoma. The research documented, among other things, a fast-approaching shortage of nurses and other healthcare workers and of engineers and other aerospace workers. It became the Council’s job to find ways to fill those gaps and generally to help young people and others prepare for the jobs that the state’s employers were going to have.

The resulting Grow Oklahoma action plan sought to give Oklahoma the competitive advantage of a demand-driven workforce with increasing education and skill levels, leading to wealth creation for both businesses and individuals and a better quality of life across the state. It was ambitious but reasonable.

Part of the plan was the growoklahoma.com website, which developed into this site, to help Oklahomans make informed career choices.

The Core Principles

The Grow Oklahoma plan zeroed in on the state’s leading industries – including manufacturing, aerospace, healthcare, energy, and construction – as the core for future growth. In addition, it called for:

  • Making sure workers at all levels have a chance to “upskill” and advance in their careers,
  • Removing cost, child care, transportation and other obstacles to advanced training and education
  • Aligning multiple state agencies behind the Grow Oklahoma initiative
  • Supporting regional growth partnerships and solutions
  • And developing metrics to measure and track progress

Problems to Overcome

One reason the Council exists and needs to exist is that Oklahoma faces some major hurdles on its way to a more prosperous workforce and economy. They include:

  • 30 percent of high school students don’t get the most minimum workforce credential, a diploma.
  • Of those who graduate and head for community college, up to 70 percent have to take remedial courses before starting their college work.
  • Only 30 percent of Oklahomans have college degrees or any other post-high-school credentials, making us one of the least educated states.
  • Too many of us lack the basic reading, writing, math and analytic skills needed to train and improve our job skills.
  • 44 percent of our jobs are way below average, paying less than 70 percent of the average Oklahoma wage.

Success Bit by Bit and Growing

Some of the things the Governor’s Council has accomplished include:

  • Documenting the shortage of healthcare and aerospace workers, leading to creation of the Oklahoma Healthcare Workforce Center, which is helping to increase the supply of nurses and to the aerospace engineer tax credit, which is helping to increase the supply of engineers.
  • Initiating Project MOVES with three centers of excellence that have taught more than 200 teachers that advanced manufacturing is not dumb and trained more than 1,200 at-risk youth for jobs in that field.
  • Creating the Career Readiness Certificate, giving more than 50,000 Oklahomans a way to prove they have basic skills and giving employers a way to identify the best job candidates. Oklahoma is a leader in this field and recently became the first state with the KeyTrain Career Readiness preparation course available statewide.
  • Creating Work Ready Communities that have documented that their workforce is ready for business development.
  • Promoted graduation coaches, leading to a legislated mentor program to help potential dropouts stay in school
  • Promoted dual enrollment and legislation that has made it easier for high school students to simultaneously take college classes
  • Held regular and frequent interagency meetings that have facilitated a continuous flow of change and improvement in workforce and economic development.