Oklahoma’s economic growth, driven by record employment and several thriving industries including aerospace and advanced manufacturing, is on pace to add 135,000 jobs in the next 10 years.
That rapid growth might be too good to keep up with.
The Oklahoma Office of Workforce Development and Oklahoma Works are projecting that by 2028 the state will have an employment gap of about 20,000 jobs.
“It’s really the result of a confluence of factors. Baby Boomers are retiring and there is a lot of demand in the state, more demand than we have supply,” said David Crow, outreach and information officer with the Oklahoma Office of Workforce Development.
“We keep adding jobs and more Oklahomans are working than ever before. With a good chunk of those leaving and continued demand, it creates a situation where we need more workers in certain fields.”
A new report from the Governor’s Council for Workforce and Economic Development highlights the need to develop the state’s talent pipeline and outlines several approaches to address the issue.
The Oklahoma Talent Pipeline Report points out that not only is the state’s workforce the largest it’s been — topping 1.7 million for the first time in September of last year and projected to reach more than 1.9 million by 2028 — it is also becoming more diverse.
Oil and gas jobs that once made up 7% to 9% of the state’s workforce, now account for 3%.
At the same time, health care and professional and business services sectors have added more than 200,000 jobs, and the trend is for more of the same.
Nurses, general operation and transportation managers, finance, construction, maintenance and repair are among the professions expected to have the most openings in the next 10 years.
“This is a common problem in the middle of the country,” Crow said. “We are in the same shoes as a lot of the other states, and we have to find ways to circumvent the problem.”
The report outlines a number of steps to take to address the gap including developing a statewide Sector Partnership Network, the expansion of work-based learning opportunities, implementing skills-based hiring practices and increasing high school graduation/equivalency.
“We hear a lot about businesses not being able to find workers and these are some solutions and ways companies can work together with folks in workforce development,” Crow said.
Steve Tiger, Tulsa Tech superintendent and CEO, said the state has tremendous educational assets that can help address the problem but more can be done to appropriately align programmatic offerings to industry needs and provide proper advisement to students.
“If the career pathway is definitive in regards to access, progression and completion, the successful student will enter the labor market with a skill set that is highly valued thereby effectively meeting the needs of the company while achieving their desired outcome. Therefore, in terms of a statewide solution, the answer is deeply connected to proper programmatic alignment and student advisement,” he said.
Tiger added that Tulsa Tech works to partner with several area industries to modify existing programs and work to meet changing industry needs.
“As a state we have got to systematically do a better job of conceptualizing education as an economic development asset to which we expect an appropriate return on investment,” he said. “Truth is, regardless of what product a company manufactures or service it provides it cannot be successful in today’s marketplace without a highly skilled workforce to do so.”