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.

Women in STEM conference highlights career possibilities for school aged participants

Northeastern State University education student Destiny May shows a pair of middle school girls how to program a table to remotely operate a robot at the Oklahoma Women in STEM conference.

Editor’s note: I was invited to attend the recent Oklahoma Women in STEM conference on the Broken Arrow campus of Northeastern State University by my friends at the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST). This is my report from the engaging science, technology, engineering and math activities for young women I saw during the conference. Check out the terrific OCAST video shot at the conference. 

By Jim Stafford

BROKEN ARROW – A group of middle school and high school aged young women gathered at the base of a stairwell in a building on the Broken Arrow campus of Northeastern State University and collectively looked up.

Standing on a step about 10 feet above them, another young woman held out a trash bag connected by string to a Styrofoam cup that held a single egg.

It was a homemade parachute, constructed during an aerodynamics and engineering workshop as part of the recent Oklahoma Women in STEM conference at NSU.

The contraption dangled over the crowd for a moment as a voice counted down “3, 2, 1.” Then it dropped. The trash bag filled with air and turned into a parachute, floating to the ground.

The egg survived unbroken.

Xan Black, executive director of conference co-sponsor Tulsa Regional STEM Alliance, led the aerodynamics workshop and counted down each parachute drop. It was an exercise designed to showcase the benefits of teamwork, persistence and perhaps even spark some future career interest in STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — she said.

“My real hope is that they will all consider a career in aviation or aerospace,” Black said. “Oklahoma has such a rich tradition in those industries, and I want those girls to know you absolutely have a place in the aerospace industry.”

Co-sponsored by the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance and NSU, the conference drew about 150 middle school and high school girls from areas surrounding Tulsa, as well as teachers and industry mentors. It concluded with a luncheon where organizers honored about 30 women who work in STEM professions across Oklahoma.

Dr. Kayse Shrum, a physician and president of the Oklahoma State College of Osteopathic Medicine, as well as Oklahoma’s Secretary of Science and Innovation, served as keynote speaker.

She urged the young women in her audience to set goals and pursue their dreams.

“My message today was really about walking in your own shoes,” she said. “It’s really being your authentic self. If you set a goal for yourself, you can achieve it, even if everyone around you thinks that’s a ridiculous goal or that’s not achievable.”

As Shrum spoke, an accompanying slide showed how under-represented women are in STEM fields. According to the National Science Foundation, women comprise only 28 percent of the science and engineering workforce.

Shrum used her own example of pursuing a STEM career. She grew up in the community of Coweta, OK, and went to college as a softball player. A professor noticed her math and science abilities and encouraged her to pursue a medical career.

“I had no idea I was capable of becoming a physician until my professor empowered me by saying ‘I think you can,’” she said.

The Women in STEM conference at NSU’s Broken Arrow campus featured a demonstration of a working robotic arm.

Kinnee Tilly, vice president of Business Development for the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance, also addressed the luncheon audience, emphasizing the importance of expanding the number of women involved in STEM careers in Oklahoma.

“The workforce pipeline is very important to the success of our state, and we need all of you to look at what your career opportunities are,” she said.

The conference also showcased robotics, computer programming, math skills and matched young women with career mentors.

“I hope the girls take away from this conference that within the realm of STEM, there are so many interesting fields and so many interesting problems and challenges, that they will think about that and say ‘I just might take that extra math class or join that robotics club,’” Black said. “And I hope these girls look around and see 150 other young girls here, all of whom are interested in STEM. That’s very important.”

Jim Stafford writes about Oklahoma innovation and research and development topics on behalf of the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science & Technology (OCAST).