Career tech funding in Oklahoma boosted by $19M
Oklahoma continues to ramp up its investment in career training, including at the Moore Norman Technology Center, where new chief executive Brian Ruttman said there’s room for growth in programs that ready people for careers in everything from health care to auto repair.
The state has increased its funding for career techs by about 15% in the past year. That amounts to an infusion of nearly $19 million, boosting the career tech budget to more than $141 million. While that may sound like a lot, it’s important to know there’s a rising demand for skilled professionals not just in Oklahoma but across the nation. More than half a million jobs in manufacturing were left unfilled last year in the United States, and according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics a serious “skills gap” may make it impossible for industries to fill as many as 2.4 million jobs in the next decade.
That’s serious money that could be left on the table. According to the National Association of Manufacturers, every dollar in output from a manufacturing industry generates $1.89 in additional value, and every direct job creates 2.5 additional jobs.
At the Moore Norman center, students can build careers based on initial training offered in 30 high-demand areas like machining, database administration, digital video production, cloud and virtual network administration, cyber defense, web design and more. Ruttman said welding and heating and air conditioning programs are popular, as well as health career programs and those that focus on science, technology, engineering and math.
“We’re at capacity and have a waiting list to get in to some programs,” he said.
That shouldn’t be surprising. Across the state, more than 550,000 students enrolled in career tech classes last year, including more than 86,000 middle and high school students. At the Moore Norman Center, there are currently 1,365 younger students and 438 adults enrolled, amounting to 100% capacity. The center also provides customized training classes for thousands of people who work in local industries.
Ruttman said lots of effort goes in to “trying to put the right student in the right program for the right reasons” and that can result in younger students truly engaging in learning for the first time. Often, their grades will improve across the board, he said.
“Once they get in that program, you can see the light bulb go off,” he said.
It helps that the career tech has been able to invest in the latest technologies used in industries, and certifications earned by students align with those they’ll need to get good jobs. Ruttman noted that more than 90% of the center’s funding comes from local taxpayer dollars, and a $60 million bond issue was passed by local voters in 2016.
“When they walk out of here, there is no skills gap when they walk in to their new job,” Ruttman said. “That’s important, because employers want them to be able to walk in and use today’s equipment.”
Indeed, about 85% of career tech students make their way into jobs in their chosen career fields. Many others move on to college.
Vince Bertram, president and chief executive of Project Lead the Way, which advocates for engaging, hands-on learning to “empower students to develop in-demand knowledge and skills,” was a recent visitor to the Moore Norman campus. He said it is important to expose students to training and technology relevant to not only today’s workforce, but also to tomorrow’s.
“The reality is, it’s not just about training for a job, because the jobs will change and the skills needed for jobs will change,” Bertram said. “This is about teaching the skills that they’ll use to grow, like problem-solving, to think critically, to communicate and to work on teams. If you can’t work on teams in this economy, you’re going to be obsolete.”
Ruttman said the Moore Norman Career Tech also provides safety training, equipment training and more for industries in the area, a great resource for the companies and also an economic development resource for the region. Its Business Development Center is available to help local entrepreneurs in the early phases of business-building.
The new chief executive said that during his tenure he’d like to expand capacities at the career tech in key areas, including making potential investments in training programs for the aerospace industry. He’ll also oversee completion of projects not yet finished related to the 2016 bond issue and develop plans for carrying on with quality training even as key leaders at the center are expected to retire in coming years.
“I have a strong desire to see CareerTech as a leader in workforce development and as a driving force behind economic growth in Oklahoma,” Ruttman said. “The opportunity to lead Moore Norman – one of the state’s premier technology centers – is a true honor, especially at a time when Oklahomans are recognizing the vital role of CareerTech in our state’s economy and quality of life.”
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