Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance unveils Career Pathways tool as industry occupational ‘roadmap’

Helping launch the OMA’s Career Pathways online tool for manufacturing workers were (from left): Michael Grant, VP of operations for Ditch Witch and chairman of the Oklahoma Manufacturing Workforce Committee; Sharon Harrison, director of workforce development for the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance; Sarah Ashmore, deputy director for the Oklahoma Office of Workforce Development; and Dave Rowland, president of the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance.

Editor’s note: I was invited recently by the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance (OMA) to witness the formal launch of its “Career Pathways” online tool for manufacturing workers across the state. This is the report I wrote on OMA’s behalf:

The Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance (OMA) recently launched an online tool that provides a career advancement “roadmap” for manufacturing workers across the state.

OMA leaders announced the launch of its interactive Career Pathways tool in a special ceremony held at Progressive Stamping & Fabrication in NW OKC.

The Career Pathways site features critical manufacturing occupations and the potential career progression workers can pursue within each area.

“Our Workforce Development Committee surveyed manufacturers across the state – small, medium and large – asking what critical occupations are you going to be hiring for over the next five years, and they gave us eight specific occupations,” said Sharon Harrison, Ed.D., OMA’s workforce development director.

The occupations and specific career pathways identified by the 35-member Workforce Development Committee are:

Assembler, Material Handler, Machine Operator, CNC Machinist, CNC Programmer, Maintenance Technician, Welder and Front Line Supervisor.

Once the critical occupations were identified, the work-based learning subcommittee conducted focus groups for more than eight months assessing required competencies, skill progression and education providers to produce pathways that reflected industry input and needs.

“We hope this tool will help people envision how these occupations are interconnected and how the progression of skills builds manufacturing careers,” Harrison said. “Our goal was to visualize multiple occupations and to illustrate the necessary education, training and competencies required at each level.”

Manufacturers can use the Career Pathways site as a tool to recruit and retain talent for critical occupations, said Michael Grant, vice president of Operations & Supply Chain at Perry’s Ditch Witch, which is now a subsidiary of The Toro Co.

Grant chaired the Workforce Development Committee that identified the eight critical occupational categories for Oklahoma manufacturers.

“Being able to attract talent to the manufacturing industry is key to us,” Grant said. “It was one of the hot-button topics as we talked to industry across Oklahoma. This is another tool we can put in their hands to help them develop their workforce, keep them engaged and retain that talent.”

The Career Pathways tool was developed and launched with the aid of a grant from the Oklahoma Office of Workforce Development and in partnership with the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber and Central Oklahoma Workforce Investment Board, Harrison said.

Manufacturing companies represented on the committee includes: Ditch Witch, Kimray, M-D Building Products, Valiant Artificial Lifts, Baker Hughes, PACCAR Winch, AW Bruggerman, Flexibility Concepts, OSECO, HEMSaw, United Holdings, Spiers New Technology, Tulsa Centerless Bar Processing and Mohawk.

Workforce development is an ongoing critical issue for Oklahoma manufacturers, said Dave Rowland, president of the Oklahoma Manufacturers Alliance. Career Pathways is designed as an innovative solution to showcase manufacturing jobs to attract and retain workers.

“Even in the pandemic, it is turning into a major challenge, how you interview your people, how you onboard them, how you find people and get them into the workforce,” Rowland said. “In the next few years, manufacturing will see a retirement of almost 30 percent of its workforce.”

The Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance is an integral part of the Oklahoma Innovation Model, which works to grow and diversify Oklahoma’s economy through entrepreneurship, advanced technology and innovation.

“We believe that what we are presenting here is a great step forward for Oklahoma manufacturers and our careers,” Rowland said.