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Jennifer Monies - Skills Gap

Workers with certifications or degrees are in high demand to fill jobs in Oklahoma’s business and industry sector.
Jennifer Monies - Skills Gap

Jennifer Monies, executive director of the Oklahoma Educated Workforce Initiative


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Show 1518: Jennifer Monies - Skills Gap

To OK Horizon TV Website


Rob McClendon: Well, more than a half a million new state jobs may need to be filled by out-of-state workers. According to a new report, over the next five years, Oklahoma will add 525,000 new jobs that require a certification or a degree. Problem is currently, only about a third of our workforce has such qualifications. Earlier, I visited with the Jennifer Monies, the executive director of the Oklahoma Educated Workforce Initiative, who funded the report.

Rob: So, Jennifer, your group has just finished a study. Tell us a little bit about it.

Jennifer Monies: Yeah, it’s Oklahoma’s Business Case for Education Reform. So we’re really talking to the business community, trying to send a wakeup call to say, this is, education is an issue that you have to care about because this is a bottom-line issue to Oklahoma business. You’ve traveled the state and talked to businesses. You know that, you know they’re having a hard time finding skilled workers across the state. And so it’s really important for the business community to understand, you know, often they’ll, you know, see workers’ comp or tax reform or something like that, they know that that affects the dollars in their bottom line. They don’t necessarily see education in that same way, but it is a bottom-line issue. You know, one of the most startling statistics in the report talks about how by 2020, 64 percent of the jobs in Oklahoma will require some kind of postsecondary education, whether that’s an industry certification from CareerTech, an associate’s degree from community college or a bachelor’s degree or higher. A majority of those jobs are actually, you know, kind of in that industry certification associate’s degree level. Currently only 33 percent of Oklahomans have any such degree. So 64 percent of the jobs are gonna require that, 33 percent of Oklahomans have it, you can see that there’s a huge skills gap there that is going to affect business. It’s already affecting them now and it’s just going to dramatically increase especially once the baby boomers start really retiring. You know, the skills gap is gonna get even bigger.

Rob: Yeah, and I like to remind people when we say 2020, sometimes that sounds a little far off, but that’s less than five years for any of us.

Monies: It is.

Rob: But the good thing about a lot of these jobs, as you’ve just said, is that maybe a one-year program can get someone into the workplace at a significantly higher salary.

Monies: Yeah, no, it can. And you know, there’s a lot of discussion on the national level about the middle class, right. This is the way to solve the middle-class problem in Oklahoma. I mean, you’re talking about appealing to people who, you know, historically have not had any kind of, you know, education after high school, to make them aware that there are industry certifications that can take one year, two years, where you can dramatically increase your salary. I mean, I don’t think that there’s a lot of people in Oklahoma that understand that with a one- or two-year degree, you know, industry certification from CareerTech, they could become a welder. There are jobs sitting open right now that are in the $80,000 to $90,000 range. I mean, you’re talking about a dramatic increase in quality of life for Oklahomans.

Rob: What is your group going to do exactly with industry to get them more involved into this process?

Monies: A lot of it is about changing the rhetoric, right. Because for so long, you know, the education community thinks that business is trying to privatize education. And the business community thinks that the education people just want status quo, and they don’t want any change, and they just want to leave things the way they are. The answer is somewhere in the middle there as far, and, and making sure that ultimately we all want the same thing. We all want every child in Oklahoma to graduate and be able to get their dream job. That’s what everybody wants – in the business community and in the education community. So really, trying to bring that, those two roots together and really the, the point of the study and, and of OEWI in general is to really motivate the business community to engage with the education community. You know, I think that the business community, whether it’s, you know, on entrepreneurial skills or its ability to adapt, you know, there’s a lot that the business community has to offer the education reform movement if everybody’s willing to talk together and work together. Because I think, you know, for so long it’s been us versus them. And somewhere in the middle, you know, the kids get lost in all of that. So we have to engage the business community to make them see that education is a bottom-line issue for them, that they have to care about this, or else they aren’t gonna be able to find the workers that they need. But then also, work, you know, side-by-side with the education community to say, “This is why the business community is interested. We aren’t, you know, trying to take over our schools or trying to take over education. We want to work together to make sure that we, you know, have the workforce that we need and the kids lead a fulfilling and happy life right here in Oklahoma.”

Rob: Yeah, and recognizing that ultimately whether it be a certification or a degree, it, your education is about workforce.

Monies: Yeah, no, and I mean, the business community is the end-user of the education system. And I don’t think that’s it often seen that way. And I get it from an education standpoint. A teacher, you know, you’re in the trenches day-to-day, you know. You aren’t thinking about, you know, what’s Johnny gonna do whenever he graduates? You’re thinking about what’s Johnny gonna do on his test tomorrow? You know, so I understand, you know, the, the, you know, tendency to get kind of down in the trenches that way, and that’s why you need, hopefully, an organization like OEWI and others to kind of do that high-level, you know -- we all have to look at the bigger picture here, which is workforce. And, you know, we all want, you know, parents want their kids to stay in Oklahoma and have jobs here in Oklahoma and raise kids in Oklahoma. So, you know, right now that’s, by and large that’s not happening. We’re losing some of our best and brightest, you know, whether that’s to out-of-state colleges, or they’re leaving for better jobs after college. Oklahoma definitely needs more bachelor’s degrees. But there are other higher ed options than just a bachelor’s degree. And to really, you know, help kids understand that there are, you know, a wealth of options out there when it comes to, to jobs that they can have in the future.

Rob: And I think an important point to make, that every study I’ve seen from the governor’s office on down, is coming out, trying to get a job just with a high school diploma now, it’s just going to be a really tough life for anyone.

Monies: No, and I mean, it’s, it’s almost impossible. I mean, whether, regardless of what job you’re talking about, you know, I mean, we talked about welding earlier. You know, you now do that with a computer. A lot of people and a lot of students in Oklahoma don’t understand that manufacturing jobs aren’t what they used to be. You know, they aren’t the dirty, you know, assembly-line jobs that their parents and grandparents had. You know, it’s sitting there working with a computer. And so even some of the jobs that, you know, their parents or grandparents were able to get with just a high school degree, you at least have to have some kind of industry certification to get now.

Rob: And in your report you featured an area that we had just visited ourselves, and that’s MidAmerica Industrial Park. Tell us a little bit about why you like what they’re doing.

Monies: Yeah, one of the things we didn’t want the report to be all doom and gloom and negative. You know, we had several spotlights on success. One of them, you know, not to get off topic, but is our, Oklahoma’s pre-K program. You know, we start out really strong. We have 74 percent of Oklahomans in preschool. The national average is only 26 percent. So we really start strong, but then talking about, you know, so we have this spotlight on success on MidAmerica Delivers, which is in Pryor, Okla. They really have, you know, common education, higher education and industry work seamlessly there, where you know, in common education jobs are the focus, you know, that we’re trying to pair students up with their skill set to make sure that they have a job upon graduation, fitting them into the area of higher ed that they best fit into, whether that’s CareerTech, community college or a bachelor’s degree at a higher ed institution. And then, most of those kids go straight on and work right there in Pryor, Okla., and are able to stay home and, and have great paying jobs. And so it’s a really, you know, and you talk to them out there and you have, you know, it’s a unique model because often, you know, common ed, higher ed and industry, those people don’t talk to one another. They don’t collaborate the way that they are in Pryor. So we really wanted to spotlight them and say this is what it can look like when everyone, you know, puts their ego at the door and focuses on the kids.

Rob: All right. Now, if you would like to see a little bit more about the MidAmerica Industrial Park, we do have that story streaming on our website at Jennifer, thank you so much for being here.

Monies: Thanks for having me, Rob.

To Horizon Website

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