Heading back to school

Remember when you were young and asked what you wanted to be when you grew up? For some, it was a teacher, astronaut or firefighter. For me, it was either an NBA player or a medical doctor. Later in life, as my interests began to evolve, I wanted to be a professional rock climber. As you might guess, none of those pre-adolescent and teenage dreams became a reality.

Not only did my skill set not align with the goal, but I also realized my wants and desires might not be met with certain career options. Thus, I set out on another course to achieve my dreams. Regardless of the endgame, education was the mechanism to realize my goals. That is still the case for today's generation of students.

In a few days, the doors of learning will swing open for a new school year in Norman. Whether it's PreK-12, career tech, or higher education, students in Norman have the best to choose from. Year after year, our local educational systems produce well-prepared students for their next phase of life; as all our schools regularly graduate award-winning students. It is exciting to see a student's skill set align with his or her passion to create long-term success.

I often hear from our Chamber members that there is a shortage in the workforce pipeline. That sentiment is supported by several studies. Recently, Oklahoma Works released its "Oklahoma's Talent Pipeline" report. Here's an interesting excerpt from their study:

Over the next ten years, Oklahoma's economy is projected to grow by 135,500 jobs. This economic expansion will present challenges in meeting labor demands. Our state has an aging population and many people are leaving rural communities for better career opportunities or higher wages in larger cities.

Based on the age distribution of Oklahoma's current population and the replacement of retiring workers, the state is on track to experience a gap of approximately 20,000 workers.

Thankfully, the study acknowledges we have a large pool of untapped talent. Our education entities have a tremendous opportunity to design career pathways that serve the job demands of the future.

In last year's "Norman Business Condition Report," conducted by the Norman Economic Development Coalition, 25 of the 40 companies interviewed projected job growth. And, 1,596 new jobs are projected within three years.

What a fantastic chance to align Norman students with Norman jobs. Norman businesses understand the advantage they have with such fantastic education partners in their backyard. For most businesses to succeed, they need to be aligned with the local workforce pipeline; it is when both areas are working together that we realize the best for our community.

I'm not sure if my children will have similar aspirations I dreamt of when I was their age, but I know for certain that I want a job climate in Norman that affords them the chance to continue calling Norman home when they are equipped and prepared to enter the workforce.

As we begin a new school year, let's strive to align our exceptional talent with the workforce demands of our innovative economy. Partnering together, we can achieve greats things for Norman.

Scott Martin, Norman Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, can be reached at 321-7260.

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