If the state continues on its current path, Oklahoma could be on pace to see companies begin to leave the state because of a lack of qualified workers, a Georgetown University economist said Tuesday.
A new study from Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce shows educational institutions in Oklahoma and nationwide aren't producing enough graduates to keep up with industry demand.
The report, “Recovery: Job Growth and Education Requirements Through 2020,” was set to be released Wednesday. According to the report, Oklahoma employers will create 668,000 new job openings by 2020.
By then, 64 percent of jobs in the state will require some form of education beyond high school, according to the report. But according to a 2013 report from the nonprofit Lumina Foundation, only about 57 percent of Oklahomans have any education beyond high school.
“We have a shortfall in the rate at which we're training the workers for these jobs,” said Nicole Smith, a Georgetown economist and a co-author of the report.
Of the 688,000 new job openings in 2020, 297,000 openings will be jobs that didn't exist before, and 371,000 will be positions that came open as baby boomers retire, according to the report.
Major areas of growth will include oil and gas extraction, health care and professional, scientific and technical services.
If Oklahomans aren't qualified to fill those jobs, the state could find itself in a position where workers educated elsewhere come here to find jobs, while Oklahoma college graduates are forced to leave the state to find work they're qualified to do, Smith said.
The state also could begin to see companies leave the state in search of a more qualified workforce, Smith said.
Addressing the issue
Oklahoma higher education officials already are working to address the issue, they said. Over the past year, higher education officials have seen success in ramping up the number of degrees the state awards. Together, Oklahoma's public and private colleges and universities awarded nearly 3,000 more degrees last year than the previous year, topping the state's annual goal of awarding 1,700 more degrees and vocational certificates.
During a meeting last month, Oklahoma higher education Chancellor Glen Johnson told the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education that education officials are committed to continuing that trend over the next decade. Johnson acknowledged that the 1,700-degree target likely would be more difficult to reach as the campaign progresses.
Earlier this month, Jeff Downs, the state Education Department's executive director of science, technology, engineering and math, told a group of higher education and commerce officials that educators need to begin to address the problem even before students reach college.
Speaking at a conference held by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education and the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Downs said students tend to have a large amount of science instruction in fourth and fifth grades but less in middle school. By the time students reach high school, the students are again exposed to science after several years without learning it.
The educational system also needs to place greater emphasis on thinking and innovating, rather than test-taking ability, Downs said. For students to succeed after they graduate, they'll need critical-thinking and problem-solving skills that tests don't reflect.
“We are actually trying to educate a group of people to solve problems that aren't even invented yet,” he said.
We have a shortfall in the rate at which we're training the workers for these jobs.”
The Georgetown economist is a co-