Stillwater, Oklahoma —
Oklahoma Secretary of Commerce Dave Lopez said Oklahoma employers have told him that a solid work force is increasingly important to the health of their companies. A qualified work force is becoming a larger determining factor in where businesses choose to locate, he said, overtaking other variables like tax incentives.
“You can’t get economic development without a strong education system to provide the work force,” he said.
One of the problems plaguing not only Oklahoma but the United States in general is a “misalignment” between the aspirations of students and their actual behavior, said Secretary of Education Phyllis Hudecki. Most students report they are interested in pursuing postsecondary education, she said, but only 48 percent of high school graduates actually enter a postsecondary program.
Education beyond the high school level is critical to having employment opportunities, Hudecki said. As the economy becomes more specialized, employers tend to demand higher levels of education when seeking employees. To make themselves more employable, Hudecki said, it’s important for Oklahomans to pursue education beyond the high school level.
“It’s the ticket into the rest of your life,” she said.
Secretary of Science and Technoloy Stephen McKeever said national statistics regarding science and technology education are worrisome. Universities are increasingly seeing incoming freshmen who don’t have a sound background in science and mathematics, he said. That trend forces universities to offer more and more remedial courses in areas related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics, he said.
Additionally, he said, fewer and fewer students are interested in pursuing careers in those areas. The majority of new jobs in the future will be tech-related, he said, so it’s important for the education sector to produce a work force that is qualified to fill those positions.
“We don’t have enough people to enter those fields,” he said.