OKLAHOMA CITY (7 August 2017) – State Rep. Mickey Dollens has prepared legislation for consideration next year that would create an apprenticeship program designed to train Oklahoma students for “good-paying jobs of tomorrow.”
“My proposal would provide a way for students, particularly those in high school, to get hands-on learning with a company while attending a Career Tech school or a community college to study courses that are centered on a specific career,” the Oklahoma City Democrat said.
Automation is having a dramatic impact on the workplace and is displacing jobs in various industries, Dollens said.
“Because of technological advancements, we have a huge wave of automated displacement that’s coming within the next 10 to 15 years,” Dollens predicted. As a result, “There will be a lot of people out of work who need to be trained for the jobs of the future.”
The state has a jobs initiative, “Oklahoma Works,” that features a coalition of state agencies, educational institutions, businesses and other partners.
Oklahoma has “a substantial skills gap in its workforce,” the state’s website says. Estimates indicate a 23-point gap “between our current workforce and the skilled workforce we will need by 2020.”
Consequently, Oklahoma’s “greatest challenge” will be increasing the number of students with workforce credentials or associate degrees, as well as increasing the number of college graduates, state officials contend.
“We need to get our students on a career path,” Dollens said. “Post-secondary education is essential, but we need to recognize that students don’t have to go to college to secure a job that pays well.”
One example is information technology jobs that currently are outsourced but could be performed in the U.S. if workers had the proper training, the first-term legislator said. Similarly, Bob Funk Sr., CEO and chairman of the board for Express Employment Professionals, recently said the demand for graphic design students “is high now for those skilled people.”
Meanwhile, a lack of skilled labor means that thousands of job openings for plumbers, carpenters, electricians, welders and construction workers are vacant here in Oklahoma, Dollens lamented earlier this year.
The Oklahoma Building & Construction Trades Council sponsors apprenticeships in trades such as boilermaker, bricklayer, plumber and pipefitter, sheet metal worker, sprinkler fitter, electrician, elevator mechanic, roofer, heat and frost insulator, ironworker, painter/decorator, pipeliner, and glazier (cutting, installing, replacing and removing residential, commercial, and artistic glass).
An apprentice is a worker who “learns a skilled trade through planned, supervised, on-the-job training and related classroom instruction,” said Jimmy Curry, president of the Oklahoma State AFL-CIO.
The apprenticeship program Dollens envisions would enable students to “earn while they learn” and would be financed in part from federal funds that would be distributed to the states via H.R. 2353, the ‘‘Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act’’. The bill would authorize the appropriation of $5.9 billion over the 2018-2022 period, and another $1.2 billion in 2023.
The federal legislation is intended to “help more Americans enter the workforce with the skills necessary to compete for and succeed in high-skilled, in-demand careers.” H.R. 2353 passed the U.S. House of Representatives and now is in a U.S. Senate committee.
“We need to have a framework established for if and when the federal legislation passes,” Dollens said. “We need to get Oklahoma companies interested, and classes ready to go in community colleges and Career and Technology Education centers, so we can hit the ground running.”
Dollens was the author of House Bill 1407, which encourages elective high-school courses in the construction trades. The intent of the legislation is “to let kids get a head start on good-paying jobs in the construction industries,” Dollens told his colleagues. “We need career-based courses” in high school, he said, because not everyone wants or needs a college degree.
Research indicates that the average age of a construction workers in the U.S. today is 55. “We are bordering on a severe shortage of people trained in the construction trades,” Dollens said.
The introductory classes proposed in HB 1407 would be offered in grades 9-12 and would be entirely voluntary, not an unfunded mandate on school districts, Dollens stressed.
“I can attest that there is a huge shortage of workers in the construction industry,” said Jeremy Hendricks, who places construction workers on the job every day. “We have unfortunately taken these sort of introductory classes out of the high schools and kids no longer know this is a viable family-supporting career... I know for one my labor union would be happy to partner with high schools to provide curriculum and access to instructors to start a pilot program to get this off the ground. I’m sure there are other funding sources out there,” as well, he wrote.
In support of HB 1407, Dollens informed his House colleagues that not every public school is near a Career Tech center, and some students do not have the minimum 2.0 grade point average required to “get into” a Career Tech industrial trades program.
The construction industry entails more than just manual labor, he noted. For example, it involves geometry (angles of cuts and rooflines), basic math (lengths of boards and height of walls), English (reading plans and specs), and even science (how various compounds interact).
HB 1407 would dovetail with the apprenticeship program sponsored by the Building & Construction Trades Council.
HB 1407 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on Feb. 28 and was assigned to the Senate Education Committee. Sen. Randy Bass, D-Lawton, is the Senate sponsor of the measure.
A lack of skilled workers is critical in my growing industries. With automation on the rise, a shortage of skilled workers and an aging workforce, there's no doubt our state's leading industries and small businesses owners are needing more skilled workers to hire. Now more than ever, Oklahoma must create cost effective career pathways focused on delivering skilled workers and stable employment in an ever-changing economy.
Apprenticeship Oklahoma is an earn while you learn training model that combines real-world hands on training and job related education geared towards teaching the skills necessary for the jobs of tomorrow.
Apprenticeship Oklahoma is a forward thinking program that benefits both students and employers. The program focuses on traditional fields, like construction while also emphasizing modern apprenticeships for the jobs of tomorrow.
High school students will combine their apprenticeship with concurrent enrollment at a career tech, community college, and paid on-the-job training that's focused on the importance of skill development. Ideally, Apprenticeship Oklahoma would will work closely with the Oklahoma Department of Career Tech and the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education.
How do we pay for this?
H.R.2353 - The Strengthening Career & Technical Education for the 21st Century Act provides strong financial support from our federal delegation that ensures Oklahoma is equipped to implement a successful apprenticeship program that provides industry aligned programs of study and greater opportunities for expansion of concurrent enrollment. For businesses, there is typically a return of $1.47 for every dollar invested in student apprenticeships.
Apprenticeship Oklahoma can address a number of problems in our schools, businesses, and our state's economy. High quality, industry aligned apprenticeships can benefit students looking for a cost-effective path to obtain the knowledge, skills, and credentials needed to start a successful career. Further, Apprenticeship Oklahoma can provide students with a high school diploma, professional certification, career exposure, college credit, and no educational debt.