Two years ago, it was impossible to major in leisure services at Oklahoma City Community College.
Now, nine students are majoring in the program.
The program is one of the newest at OCCC, said Susan Tabor, dean of the college's social sciences division. It can lead students to a range of careers, including the hotel and restaurant industry, as well as jobs aboard cruise ships, she said. The college began offering courses in the program two years ago, in response to industry demand.
“I'm really rather pleased with the involvement,” she said.
As Oklahoma struggles to produce enough qualified workers to keep pace with industry demands, higher education institutions across the state are looking at new tools to help gauge hiring trends and tailor their course offerings to those trends more quickly.
State officials have expressed concern in recent years about a lack of credentialed workers in Oklahoma.
Georgetown University's Center for Education and the Workforce predicts 57 percent of Oklahoma's workforce would need some kind of postsecondary degree by 2018. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, only 22.7 percent of Oklahomans held a bachelor's degree or higher in 2009, the most recent year available. Just 7.4 percent of the population held an advanced degree.
In years past, colleges, universities and CareerTech centers relied on labor reports to keep up with the needs of industry. Those reports often were months or even years old, making it difficult for those institutions to keep up with those needs as they came up.
Now, an Oklahoma Department of Commerce program allows those institutions to see the areas of greatest need at any time.
The program, called Labor Insight, scans job postings from across the state to create a breakdown of the skill sets that are in greatest demand, said Dustin Pyeatt, the department's outreach program manager.
In addition to skill sets, colleges use the software to look at demand for certain majors or professional certifications, like commercial driver's licenses. The program can show areas of demand either in specific cities or statewide.
The idea behind the program, Pyeatt said, is to give colleges a tool to help them tailor their offerings based on how the market looks at the time, rather than when a report was conducted months before.
Knowing what kinds of workers are in highest demand could allow colleges to make better decisions regarding which programs to create, which to expand and which to discontinue, Pyeatt said. It also could help students avoid majoring in an area that's in low demand or obsolete.
The program is one of a number of tools OCCC uses to make decisions about creating new programs and expanding existing ones, college spokesman Cordell Jordan said. The college's business programs also consult with business review committees that include business and chamber of commerce officials from communities around the state to gauge industry need.
A major push toward producing more college graduates has been under way since last year. Glen Johnson, chancellor of the Oklahoma Higher Education System, has called for an additional 20,400 degrees and certificates awarded in Oklahoma over the next 12 years. That goal is a part of Complete College America, a nationwide initiative designed to boost college completion.