Career tech funding in Oklahoma boosted by $19M

Published: Tuesday, September 3, 2019 By: Steve Metzer Source: The Journal Record

Oklahoma continues to ramp up its investment in career training, including at the Moore Norman Technology Center, where new chief executive Brian Ruttman said there’s room for growth in programs that ready people for careers in everything from health care to auto repair.

The state has increased its funding for career techs by about 15% in the past year. That amounts to an infusion of nearly $19 million, boosting the career tech budget to more than $141 million. While that may sound like a lot, it’s important to know there’s a rising demand for skilled professionals not just in Oklahoma but across the nation. More than half a million jobs in manufacturing were left unfilled last year in the United States, and according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics a serious “skills gap” may make it impossible for industries to fill as many as 2.4 million jobs in the next decade.

That’s serious money that could be left on the table. According to the National Association of Manufacturers, every dollar in output from a manufacturing industry generates $1.89 in additional value, and every direct job creates 2.5 additional jobs.

At the Moore Norman center, students can build careers based on initial training offered in 30 high-demand areas like machining, database administration, digital video production, cloud and virtual network administration, cyber defense, web design and more. Ruttman said welding and heating and air conditioning programs are popular, as well as health career programs and those that focus on science, technology, engineering and math.

“We’re at capacity and have a waiting list to get in to some programs,” he said.

That shouldn’t be surprising. Across the state, more than 550,000 students enrolled in career tech classes last year, including more than 86,000 middle and high school students. At the Moore Norman Center, there are currently 1,365 younger students and 438 adults enrolled, amounting to 100% capacity. The center also provides customized training classes for thousands of people who work in local industries.

Ruttman said lots of effort goes in to “trying to put the right student in the right program for the right reasons” and that can result in younger students truly engaging in learning for the first time. Often, their grades will improve across the board, he said.

“Once they get in that program, you can see the light bulb go off,” he said.

It helps that the career tech has been able to invest in the latest technologies used in industries, and certifications earned by students align with those they’ll need to get good jobs. Ruttman noted that more than 90% of the center’s funding comes from local taxpayer dollars, and a $60 million bond issue was passed by local voters in 2016.

“When they walk out of here, there is no skills gap when they walk in to their new

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