Originally published in Tulsa World’s Opinion section | You may have heard the term “skills gap” used to describe the disparity between those unemployed looking for a job and companies with jobs looking for employees.
According to a 2014 study by CareerBuilder, more than half of the country’s employers have open positions, but cannot find qualified candidates. At the same time, 39 percent of people under 25 years old are unemployed or underemployed, and 8 percent of people under 25 who have a four-year degree cannot find a job at all.
This growing divide between employers and job-seekers seems like it should be easy to bridge, but without specific training and technical skills, those looking for jobs will not be qualified to fill the positions that are available.
Since its founding in 1946, the mission of Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology in Okmulgee has been to train a workforce to meet the needs of the country’s infrastructure. Unlike any other higher education institution in the state, and perhaps the country, OSUIT is a university of applied technology where hands-on learning is the standard. Students are taught technical skills, but OSUIT should not be confused with a vocational school. Our students earn real college degrees, not just certifications, and they leave here with technical and critical thinking skills ready to take on leadership and management roles in their careers.
One profound difference at OSUIT is that our instructors are not professional teachers, but professionals who teach. They are industry-proven practitioners with years of experience in the specific fields into which they are preparing students to enter.
But perhaps what makes OSUIT even more unique is that our programs of study work hand-in-hand with hundreds of companies and industry professionals, some even sponsoring entire degree programs. These corporate partners recognize the value of the educational and skills training that we provide and are willing to invest in our students as their future workforce. Many support our programs through donations of equipment so students can learn on the most up-to-date technology available.
Internships are an essential requirement of our technical degree programs, ensuring students gain real-world experience in their field of study before they graduate. These internships typically lead to a hired position, so more than 90 percent of our students have a job waiting for them upon graduation — this is nearly unheard of in higher education.
OSUIT is addressing the critical workforce needs of several industries where many of their experienced employees are reaching retirement age in the midst of new corporate growth and expansion. We are essentially filling the skills gap one highly-trained graduate at a time, but much more work remains.
Government officials and corporate executives repeatedly tell us that there is a genuine demand for the type of education that OSUIT provides, and they would like to see more applied learning offerings throughout higher education that are customized to meet ever-changing industry requirements. It is my hope that more colleges and universities would join OSUIT in this model of advanced workforce development.
The era of randomly earning a bachelor’s degree, in any subject, and that being enough to get a job after graduation is over. Students must be more strategic in their planning in this challenging job market. They need to be armed with more than a piece of paper after graduation.
Employers want and need employees who can hit the ground running from Day 1 — someone who is already familiar with that industry’s standards, procedures, and equipment. This requires more than theoretical learning, it requires an applied education with relevant hands-on learning — a specialty OSUIT and its partners have perfected over many years.
Dr. Bill R. Path is president of Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology.
This column is part of the Tulsa World’s Bridging the Skill Gap series.