I have been part of Oklahoma’s Career Tech system for more than 20 years, and I am very passionate about meeting workforce needs of Oklahoma companies and economic development. I understand that in order for communities to thrive, they must retain and grow quality jobs. Additionally, they must prepare their citizens to be successful in these jobs. This sounds like an easy task; however, most communities are struggling to meet this challenge.
In my role as Tulsa Tech CEO, I have the opportunity to attend many meetings involving economic development. I have noticed the challenge of economic development is becoming increasingly complex as the need for a talented and skilled workforce has become more difficult. The “skills gap,” the mismatch of workforce needs and individuals’ skill sets, seems to be widening.
This problem doesn’t seem possible when all we hear is that our unemployment rate is historically low. The issue is that our unemployment rates do not accurately reflect the large number of people who are underemployed or simply disengaged from the job market altogether.
Last year, as part of an op/ed column, I mentioned “The Coming Jobs War” by Jim Clifton. The book drives home the importance of education, training, economic growth and our society. Clifton was adamant: The coming world war is an all-out global war for jobs.
The war for good jobs has trumped all other leadership activities because it has been the cause and the effect of everything else that countries have experienced. This will become even more real in the future as global competition intensifies. If countries fail at creating jobs or preparing people for jobs, their societies will fall apart. Countries, and more specifically cities, will experience suffering, instability, chaos and eventually revolution. This is the new world that we must confront.
An increasing number of people in the world are miserable, hopeless, suffering and becoming dangerously unhappy because they don’t have an almighty job — and in most cases, no hope of getting one. The lack of good jobs will become the root cause of almost all world problems that America and other countries will face.
The book goes on to discuss the importance of cities and communities winning the “jobs war.” I am very pleased to see leaders across our region placing high importance on economic development and workforce education. As I mentioned, I have been working in this field for quite some time, but something feels and looks different this time in Oklahoma regarding the importance of economic development. And, I am pleased to see it.
Tulsa’s momentum is obvious as we have added more than 15,000 new jobs since 2016, according to the Tulsa Regional Chamber. However, the “jobs war” is never ending. We must continue to make economic development a priority and invest accordingly. Our investment is not just about incentives or education. Economic development in today’s world involves talent retention and attraction, inclusiveness, public safety, infrastructure, public transportation, community attractions such as the Gathering Place, and the list goes on. Tulsa must become a place of choice as the “jobs war” becomes ever so apparent and significant. We must be committed and intentional in our endeavors to improve our city so that we are on the winning side.
Lastly, in order for our entire region to thrive, we can’t have pockets of success. Investments should not only be placed in our downtown area. Additional attention should be given to our underserved areas so that we all move forward together. Disparity amongst groups is a recipe for failure. A good example is the investment being made by the George Kaiser Family Foundation and the city of Tulsa with the Peoria-Mohawk Business Park. More of these investments should be made.
Good job, Tulsa and our philanthropic community! Now, let’s get back to work and win the “jobs war.”
Steve Tiger is superintendent and CEO of Tulsa Tech and a member of the Tulsa World Community Advisory Board. Opinion columns by advisory board members appear in this space most weeks.