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Gov. Mary Fallin - America Works

The Oklahoma CareerTech System is a partner in the effort to help Oklahomans earn the credentials and degrees they’ll need to find employment and fill the growing skills gap - forecast to be a 23 percent gap by 2020.
Gov. Mary Fallin - America Works

Gov. Fallin talks about the skills gap in Oklahoma.



Show 1415: America Works


Rob McClendon: Well, it is middle-class jobs Gov. Fallin is focusing on with a program called America Works. I sat down with her moments before the start of the National Governors Association meeting in Oklahoma City. Madame Governor, why did you choose workforce as the subject for the National Governors Association?

Gov. Mary Fallin: Well, because we have to make sure that we have the skills that we need in our workforce to meet the needs of the employers in America, not only in America, but specifically in Oklahoma. Now, what we find right now is that technology has changed things. We’re in an international global economy. We don’t just compete town to town, state to state, but we compete all over the world as a state and certainly as a nation. And we have to make sure that we have the type of skilled, educated workers that take the type of jobs that we have and that our market demands. And the fact of the matter is, we’re not meeting those needs. Many times I have employers tell me, “I can’t find the workers I need,” or, “I can’t find the kind of educational or certificates that, educational degrees or certificates I need.” And so that’s why we developed this initiative is to put America back to work, put Oklahoma back to work, and to make sure that we’re aligning our educational attainment levels with the type of jobs that are available in the workforce.

Rob: Now, not only are you bringing governors into governor offices from around the country in today, but also business and industry here in Oklahoma to talk about something called “The New Minimum,” which I think you’ve just described for us.

Fallin: Absolutely. I did just describe “The New Minimum.” And “The New Minimum” means that if you look at where we were, say, 50 years ago, and I’ve got a little chart here that really demonstrates that, but 50 years ago about 79 percent of our workforce in 1965 needed only a high school degree to basically reach the middle class or beyond or the American Dream. But today that number has dropped, that 35 percent of our jobs in America, and basically here in Oklahoma, need some type of high school degree only. And of this 35 percent of the jobs in America that need a high school degree, two-thirds of those jobs will pay less than $25,000. You’re not gonna be able to reach the American Dream if you’re making $25,000 or less. So what we’ve got to do is change those dynamics. Change them not only for our nation, but change them for our state. We know in the state of Oklahoma if you look at the education attainment level of all of our people who are employed that about 54 percent of Oklahomans have something more than a high school degree. It could be a couple hours of college, it could be a career and technology certificate, it could be an associate degree, a bachelor’s degree or even above. But looking out six years from now in 2020, we know that 77 percent of all of our jobs in Oklahoma will require something more than a high school degree. And so we have a big skills gap. But a 23 percent gap, and if we don’t fill that skills gap to make sure we have the right type of education levels in our state, career certificates like with CareerTech, what we’re gonna find is that those jobs won’t stay in Oklahoma. Or we may just not even attract the jobs to Oklahoma because they can’t find the workers they need.

Rob: So knowing the challenges that we face, is this an issue that both education, business and government all need to come together to fix?

Fallin: Absolutely, and that’s what’s exciting, is that we are coming together. And that’s been the whole part of my initiative is how do we bring everybody to have a seat at the table? To have common education, career and technology, vocational schools, our higher education institutions, our business leaders and our public policymakers all together and sit at the table and talk about the type of jobs that the employers will need to have filled and to talk about the skill sets that our students and even working adults who are hoping to move up the career ladder or enter back into the workforce, what type of skill sets will they need? What type of educational attainment will they need to be productive and to be able to reach the American Dream?

Rob: What do you see your office doing from here after your time as head of the National Governors Association on workforce development?

Fallin: Well, I’m hoping to bring even more jobs to Oklahoma. And that’s been one of my sole focuses is raising our standard of living in our state. And we actually have, since 2010, our per capita income has gone up 6.1 percent, which is ranked No. 2 in the nation in income growth for a family of four. But we can only raise those income levels of our families and give ’em a better life if we create better-paying jobs. And we can only retain and attract better-paying jobs if we have the right type of education and skills in the workforce to attract those jobs. And you know I jokingly say, Wade and I, my husband and I have six children between us, and I want to make sure that all of our children once they graduate from high school, or graduate from college I should say, and move on up that they will be able to find a good-paying job and stay in Oklahoma and be able to support themselves. It’s every parent’s dream that their children do better than what they did.

Rob: And certainly every grandparent’s dream.

Fallin: Absolutely.

Rob: All right. It’s always a pleasure. Thank you so much.

Fallin: You’re welcome. Thank you.


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