Innovation is the key to problem solving.

Why? It’s simple — innovation requires people to think differently and examine a long-standing issue through a new lens.

I thought about innovation and problem- solving as Gov. Kevin Stitt emphasized the importance of listening, collaborating and innovating during his inaugural speech. I was encouraged by his words and am hopeful his proposed approach gains traction throughout state government.

We are innovators in Oklahoma. We solve problems. Over time, we’ve made unmatched strides in developing new technologies, recasting and revitalizing our state’s and nation’s energy and manufacturing sectors and in discovering ground-breaking solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems. I’m proud of my state, but as a business leader, I know that we’re facing a workforce crisis. We can’t find enough qualified people to fill available jobs. Solving this problem will take a lot of listening, collaborating and innovating. It will also require action.

For workforce innovation to occur, we need the private and public sectors working together and connecting different ideas in the pursuit of a common goal — more qualified workers. I commend Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe for introducing a bill addressing future workforce needs through innovative partnerships. His work on the Retain Innovation and Manufacturing Excellence Act will help businesses fill important skill gaps by retraining older or departing employees, while new or promoted employees learn their unique responsibilities, providing a more seamless transition for businesses like mine and many others in Oklahoma. This effort is a sterling example of public officials promoting innovative policies to assist businesses in addressing workforce challenges in a constantly changing, sometimes unpredictable economy.

Business innovation also happens when a problem transforms itself into a solution. My company, like many others, has struggled to find qualified welders in northeast Oklahoma. We determined that the problem could be solved by investing in an apprenticeship program. Said programs have been shown to benefit not only the apprentice, but also those in the mentoring role. We created the Pelco Registered Apprenticeship Program; working with community partners such as the Oklahoma Works Center, Northeast Technology Center and the Cherokee Nation, we have bolstered Oklahoma’s economy by creating a sustainable talent pipeline for in-demand jobs, like welding, at Pelco. Through this experience, we have learned that problems can become solutions with the right partnerships and the right mindset.

When I think of putting innovation into the practice of problem solving, I can’t help but think about my mentor, Phil Parduhn. Fourteen years ago, Phil, along with his sons Steve and Jeff, partnered with me to found Pelco Structural in Claremore.

Holder of more than 30 patents, Parduhn is truly an Oklahoma treasure. His influence on the success of our business is incalculable. He is an inventor, entrepreneur and problem-solver. But perhaps most importantly, Parduhn is an outstanding listener, collaborator and innovator. Oklahoma giants, like Parduhn, show us the way toward innovation by providing an invaluable blueprint for success. It is no surprise that he is a member of America’s greatest generation.

Like many Oklahomans, I’m eager to see where state leaders, like Gov. Stitt, can take us as they lay out a roadmap to accelerate and elevate Oklahoma. One thing is certain — if we work together on a shared goal to move our state from the bottom in many categories to the top and we listen, collaborate and innovate, Oklahoma will be on the right track for generations to come.

Phil Albert is CEO of Pelco Structural LLC, a steel pole manufacturer based in Claremore. He is also a member of the Tulsa World Community Advisory Board. Opinion pieces by board members appear in this space most weeks.

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