August 21, 2008

Okla. Educator: We Must Work Together to Improve Work Force Pipeline

By Heather Caliendo

Phil Berkenbile looks at a crowd of education representatives and turns his focus to members of the business community.

"How do we prepare for our next work force?" asked Berkenbile, director of the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education. "People want workers, and they are willing to pay for them."

The Tulsa Metro Chamber State of Education event was held Tuesday afternoon to discuss if there is a plug in Oklahoma's work force pipeline.

Berkenbile said the main resource in obtaining more employees is ensuring students stay in school and receive the proper training necessary for the work force. One way education can help elevate Oklahoma's economy is making high school students aware of CareerTech options, he said.

"Times have changed - years ago students didn't need all the skills they are learning today but they do now," he said. "We have to work together to keep these students engaged and into the work force."

He is pushing to change how classes are delivered and for CareerTech to become better aligned with higher education.

He encourages more career intervention programs at an earlier age for Oklahoma students.

"It takes all institutes to work

together, along with people of Oklahoma who are involved in business and industries to develop a pipeline that is needed for this state to grow," he said.

Glen Johnson, chancellor of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, said higher education also echoes the need to increase the number of college graduates. He said future workers must be prepared to work in a rapidly changing global economy or they will be left behind.

Johnson presented six incentives higher education is undertaking in order to achieve its goal. One approach is the adult degree completion program, which will reach out to students who have hours toward a degree but have yet to obtain it. The program was rolled out last year, and he said the response has been positive.

"Those adult students can go back and get their degree and be organization leaders - and more valuable to themselves and their state when they do," he said.

Johnson said getting students in the work force pipeline earlier can be achieved by increasing the number of high school students who participate in concurrent enrollment programs that earn them college credit.

Higher education officials want to increase work force and economic development by linking academic programs directly to the state's business needs.

He said Oklahomans should care about increasing the number of higher education graduates because research proves that states with a high percentage of college graduates also are the states that have higher per capita income.

"There is a complete correlation between the strength of the economy and the number of college graduates in the state," he said. "There is not a collective entity that will help the state reach its goals quicker and more comprehensively than education."

Sandy Garrett, state superintendent of public instruction, said that for the past two years she has pushed for time reform in public schools. She thinks that increasing the number of instructional days for the school year would have a significant effect on education. She said Oklahoma has the shortest school year in America, with 175 days. Last year the time reform task force said an additional five days would be beneficial and while Garrett did not reveal the exact cost, she said it would cost millions to implement.

"Time reform is a clear-cut way to build our state's capacity to provide a world-class education for every student," she said. "Even if we just add one day at time, we think it's very necessary."

A current hot topic among higher education and Oklahoma industries is how the state can bring more students into engineering and science degree programs. Johnson said within reason businesses should pay competitive salaries so students who receive those degrees do not have to go out of state.

"Companies who need engineers need to work closer with our institutions that offer these programs and to make sure the facility provides classroom space and whatever else they need," he said. "When students graduate they need to know that the jobs are available to them."

Originally published by Heather Caliendo.

(c) 2008 Journal Record - Oklahoma City. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.