McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

State House

October 11, 2013

Listening tour: State CareerTech director visits Enid

ENID, Okla. — Enid was the first stop on a statewide listening tour by Robert Sommers, newly appointed director of CareerTech and State Secretary of Education and Workforce Development.

He spent most of the day Friday at Autry Technology Center, where he met with Autry’s Executive Leadership Council, area school superintendents, Autry Tech board members and agricultural education instructors.

Sommers also toured several businesses in the area, including AdvancePierre Foods and GEFCO.

The common thread of conversation was Sommers’ vision for CareerTech in Oklahoma, and his plans to work with all of the state’s education systems to provide the best education and training opportunities for Oklahoma students.

There are impediments on the path toward making all students career ready, Sommers said. One is an “either work or college” mindset that exists among both educators and parents.

“If you talk about an impediment, I can’t think of a bigger impediment than that mindset,” Sommers said.

Many employers will gladly pay for their workers’ college if they come to the employer with the technical skills the employer needs, Sommers said.

“We have to realize there are many purposes for education, but one of them has to be self-sufficiency,” Sommers said. “You cannot appreciate Shakespeare when you’re homeless and hungry.”

The state’s CareerTech Board recently approved strategic purposes for the system.

“The Oklahoma CareerTech System is charged with assuring every Oklahoman can be economically productive and every company can find the work force it needs to prosper,” Sommers said. “This generally is referred to as work force development.”

Sommers said an understanding of what CareerTech needs to accomplish is presented as a series of strategic purposes. Those purposes include career development, career readiness, work and family studies, academic enhancement, career preparation and enhancement, customized training and consulting, and curriculum and assessment services.

These goals fit with Gov. Mary Fallin’s initiative as president of the National Governor’s Association — “America Works: Education and Training for Tomorrow’s Jobs,” Sommers said. The America Works initiative aims to help close the skills gap by engaging education, business and government leaders in dialogue about what governors can do to more closely align K-12 education, universities, community and technical colleges and workforce training providers with future labor demands, said Paula Bowles, chief communications and marketing officer for Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education.

During the next year to 18 months, Sommers will visit communities and CareerTech schools across the state to learn first-hand how business, industry and education can partner to advance Oklahoma’s economy.

His next stop will be the Woodward area Monday.

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