Note: This article was published in The Journal Record on October 28, 2019.
A recent survey conducted by the State Chamber Research Foundation for the OK2030 plan revealed some frightening results keeping business leaders up at night: the lack of access to a well-skilled workforce and the status of our state’s public education system.
In the survey, nearly 52% of business leaders identified that they struggle with recruitment and retention, particularly with filling entry-level positions that require a high school diploma. When asked about the quality of core services provided by state government, business leaders rated Oklahoma’s pre-K through 12th-grade system as the lowest.
Those findings are scary to say the least and directly threaten the notion of becoming a top-10 state. It’s hard to promote Oklahoma as a great place to live and work when our current business leaders worry about our education system and workforce development.
And therein lies a significant problem. In the past, we’ve increased funding for education while simultaneously downplaying the link between education and workforce development. For years, we’ve “adjusted,” “changed,” “modified,” and “tweaked” our education system, and the results have been to maintain a status quo with little to no improvement.
Obviously, workforce and education are connected. The question we must ask ourselves: How do we create a workforce that’s truly empowered and garners the notice of businesses looking to relocate?
The answer might be one of the scariest thoughts for you this Halloween: It’s time for significant change.
Certainly, there’s no silver bullet that will magically improve both workforce development and public education in Oklahoma. In fact, it will take a myriad of policy changes. As a basic starting point, we must better align education outcomes with Oklahoma’s talent needs. Work-based learning opportunities (internships, apprenticeships) must be strengthened to encourage increased connections between the business community and the classroom.
We must also empower both students and educators for success. Oklahoma should explore opportunities that allow education dollars to follow a student to a school that best fits his or her needs. We should also reward our best and brightest teachers with a pay system that will recognize their excellence.
It’s imperative that state leaders focus the encouraging reform momentum from last year on substantially changing our education system. If we don’t, our state faces stagnation instead of success.
And if that doesn’t keep you up at night, nothing will.