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As one of my favorite American leaders Ronald Reagan once pointed out, a JOB is the best social program we have in this country. Having put 6.5 million people to work since I got into the staffing industry decades ago, several things are clear:

A) A job produces income and puts necessary taxes in our state and national coffers for the collective good of our country.

B) One individual's job has a multiplying effect, and on average, positively impacts up to three other individuals (think family dynamics).

C) A job promotes personal sense of pride, self-respect and dignity.

Often, there are two traditional paths to a job. Go to college, get a degree and get a job, or train at a trade school, learn a skill and get a job.

A recent study shows 9 out of 10 high school counselors recommend a college pathway to a career. This must change to meet today's American workforce demands.

Not everyone is suited to be a college graduate and we need to encourage young people to explore trades, specialized skills and areas of technical competence. We have a skills gap in America between the kind of jobs available and the kind of training we are delivering to the emerging work force. The result: a shortage in health care workers, programmers/coders, manufacturing techs and welders – all skills with strong earning potentials.

We must remodel our education system to educate and inspire our young people to pursue options and opportunities within the trade’s job market. We should be introducing our future workforce to vocational technical schools while they are entering high school. They should be aware of apprenticeships and internships in skilled trades and weigh associated careers against duration for a college degree, cost of tuition and related debt.

A change in mindset for the next generation requires employers and educators working together to close the skills gap by creating increased training and education options in our trade schools and vocational technology centers, while advancing on-the-job training through employers. The third side of this trade career triangle is the worker. The prospective employee must properly prepare for positions through awareness, research, education, formal training and internships/fellowships.

Oklahoma has one of the finest vocational education systems in the nation – Career Tech. For more than 100 years, Oklahoma’s system of career and technology education has focused on improving the state’s economy. Career Tech does this by offering individuals the training and skills necessary to be successful in the workplace and by providing companies with the required workforce to compete globally.

America is still a remarkable country with a talented workforce. And while we have great young people and an entrepreneurial workplace environment, we can do better in how we prepare this generation to fill our nation’s skills gap.

Robert A. (Bob) Funk

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