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Expanding apprenticeships in Oklahoma aim to help eliminate workforce skills gap

As the Western Governor’s Association (WGA) works to develop more apprenticeships to alleviate the workforce skills gap, Oklahoma Christian University students’ opportunities for career development increase.

The WGA held a two-day workshop last week in Oklahoma City, OK to address the issue of workforce development. According to the WGA website, the theme of the workshop was to examine how states can better utilize data to identify critical skills gaps, and then align resources to guide prospective workers to the training and credentials that will prepare them for in-demand careers.

As chair of the association, South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard chose Oklahoma City for one of four workshops addressing the issue of workforce development because of Gov. Mary Fallin’s emphasis on the topic, according to NewsOK.

Fallin has launched many workforce efforts during her time as governor, including Oklahoma Works, which connects businesses, educators and state agencies to discuss how educational leaders can better align degree programs to fulfill what skills employers need.

Daugaard recently joined the U.S. Department of Labor’s Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion. The task force, formed in response to an executive order signed by President Donald Trump earlier this summer, aspires to expand apprenticeships and vocational training, close the skills gap and reduce regulatory burdens on workforce development programs.

“Apprenticeships are an important building block to address the nation’s workforce skills gap,” Daugaard said. “There is a renewed interest in apprenticeships, and not just for the blue-collar trades, but for the health professions, for information technology professions, and the list is limited only by your imagination.”

Oklahoma currently has about 100 apprenticeship programs, NewsOK said, but Fallin’s staff is working on an expansion plan to be launched at next month’s annual STEM Summit.

“Every governor is aware of and struggles with the workforce gap, where the skills of those who are searching for work don’t align with the skills employers need to fill their vacancies,” Daugaard said. “Industry races along ahead and we need to do all we can to catch up and provide training pathways, whether they be industry certificates or apprenticeships or two-year degrees or four-year degrees or advanced beyond that that are relevant to what industry needs.”

Candace Owens, Oklahoma Christian’s Career Services director, said apprenticeships could help potential employees of all ages tremendously in their search for a career. She said having apprenticeships gives them the opportunity to be creative and think outside the box.

“As someone coming out of high school, it’s going to help them maybe figure out where they want to go in life, and give them some options maybe they didn’t think they could achieve,” Owens said. “And for those that are older in their career, displaced by maybe layoffs or had a relocation, it helps them to be able to start all over.”

Career Services at Oklahoma Christian suggest students do an internship or job shadow, which are both opportunities similar to an apprenticeship, Owens said. She said these provide opportunities for students to grow transferrable skills they might be missing, which could diminish the workforce skills gap.

“As an employer, there are certain skills that you are looking for,” Owens said. “If a potential employee possesses those skills, it’s easier to train them. Some of those basic skills include: Are you technologically savvy? Do you have the ability to communicate written or orally? Can you work within a team? Are you creative? Do you have leadership skills? Those are the basic ones employers are looking for from students that are coming out of college.”

According to Owens, completing college does not automatically guarantee job security. She said students must take advantage of all opportunities both on and off campus to help them develop professionally.

“You also have to have a little grit to you, and you need to be a go-getter,” Owens said. “I think you do need to take advantage of all the fun things on campus, but you also need to take advantage of the professional development opportunities taking place. In the end, you don’t want to have to struggle. You want to make sure you’re well-rounded when you graduate from college and that you’ve picked up on all the experiences you need to push you into whatever career you’ve chosen.”

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