By Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin
At the beginning of this month, I had the privilege and honor of becoming the new chair of the National Governors Association (NGA), a bipartisan group representing the nation’s governors. Part of assuming this new role includes presenting a chair’s initiative – a national effort focused on developing policy in a specific area.
There are many important issues that have a profound impact on Oklahomans and Americans everywhere. I believe one area that will have perhaps the greatest impact on the future of this country and its economic trajectory is education, specifically, our ability to train and field a well-educated, highly skilled workforce.
Finding ways to improve our workforce in all 50 states is the focus of my initiative, called “America Works: Education and Training for Tomorrow’s Jobs.”
This initiative recognizes that Americans today are facing a “new minimum” when it comes to achieving prosperity.
Fifty years ago the minimum for achieving success was a high school education. At that time, 75 percent of all U.S. jobs required only a high school diploma or no diploma at all.
That number today has dropped to 40 percent. And while that still represents a significant percentage of the job market, less than a third of the jobs available to high school graduates and dropouts pay more than $25,000 a year. In other words, it is clear that a high school diploma is no longer adequate to guarantee a good job and a middle class life.
Studies show that trend continuing. In Oklahoma, we expect only 23 percent of the jobs created between 2010 and 2020 to be available to those with a high school degree or less. The rest will require vocational or associates degrees, college degrees, or some additional education or formal training beyond high school.
The problem is that Oklahoma, like the rest of the country, doesn’t yet have the workforce it needs to keep up with the demands for higher levels of education. While 77 percent of jobs created by 2020 in Oklahoma will require education beyond high school, only 54 percent of our workforce fits that criteria. If that gap is not closed, those jobs will go elsewhere.
States across the country are facing similar problems: a skills gap that needs closing if they are to be able to create and retain the high paying, high skill, jobs of the future.
The America Works initiative aims to help close that gap by engaging education, business and government leaders in a 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.
It will also marshal the resources of the NGA in supporting governors and their staffs in using data and information to identify states’ future labor demands, prioritize changes in state education and workforce training systems, and take action to boost their workforces.
We hope to provide a working roadmap for every state to align their educational outcomes with workforce needs.
Success is critical. Creating a better educated workforce will result in a higher quality of life for our citizens, lower unemployment, higher salaries, and more revenue for public works.
I am proud to present the America Works initiative to my fellow governors, as well as the people of Oklahoma. I am looking forward to using my year as NGA chair to help improve education in the U.S. and provide more opportunities for all Americans.
The above content reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily the policies of the National Governors Association.