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Gov. Mary Fallin - Filling the Skills Gap

Gov. Mary Fallin works to begin an initiative to align education with workforce needs.
Gov. Mary Fallin - Filling the Skills Gap

Gov. Mary Fallin - Filling the Skills Gap

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State of Oklahoma


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Show 1337: Gov. Mary Fallin - Filling the Skills Gap
Air Date: September 15, 2013



Rob McClendon: Fifty years ago, a high school diploma would qualify you for about three of every four jobs. Today, that number has dropped to four out of every 10. And while 40 percent is still a significant percentage of the job market, only a third of those jobs pays more than $25,000 annually, just not enough to live a middle-class lifestyle. That’s why as the new chair of the National Governors Association, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin is working with the governors in all 50 states to begin an initiative to align educational outcomes with workforce needs. I sat down with Gov. Fallin at this year’s STEM conference in Oklahoma City.

Gov. Mary Fallin: Well, as chair of the National Governors Association, we have the ability to set an agenda for the nation that’s bipartisan and both Republican and Democrat governors can support. And I’ve chosen my focus to be on America Works: Education and Training for Tomorrow’s Jobs. Because, once again, if we don’t close that skills gap, if we don’t align education in the types of courses and certificates that are being awarded and degrees with what’s needed in the private sector, we’re not going to be competitive as a nation. So we’ve been working in Oklahoma to close that gap, to align education with business and industry. And we think as a nation it’s important for all of our states to do that. And so I have the great opportunity to work with our fellow governors to realign education so we can have a, what I call a pipeline to prosperity of our workforce.

Rob: Now we’re visiting today here at the, your inaugural STEM conference. Why is STEM -- science, technology, engineering and mathematics -- why is that so important for the state?

Fallin: Well, STEM is very important for Oklahoma because it’s our future. If you look at manufacturing, for an example, you know the old days, if you wanted to get a manufacturing job, you basically showed up with a high school degree, maybe even less. But today, the manufacturing industry has changed tremendously. If you go into a modern-day manufacturing facility, you see there’s all kinds of technical computer equipment, machines that you run. So, you know, things have changed in our nation. But STEM is also very important for the types of jobs we want to attract, the higher-paying type of jobs, in our state. The aerospace industry, defense industry, you know, the energy sector, which is key industries in our state. Agriculture is certainly very key. You know, we have to have those who have skills in science and math and technology and engineering to be able to keep up these industries in our state. And so today our STEM Summit is focusing on how do we develop a road map for Oklahoma so that we can reach those educational attainment levels in the right types of educational fields required by industry.

Rob: Yeah, and honestly this comes at a time when we are seeing record college debt for our graduates, young people, and a fairly high dropout rate, something, what, over 40 percent. How do we get those two to match up?

Fallin: Well, we’re going to reach down further into our school systems into basically middle school and certainly into high school and start talking to our students about the types of courses that they need to take to find things that they are interested in, in the future, whether they get a career technology certificate to go into some type of profession or whether they go into some type of college degree program, and what types of professions they might find interesting. There’s a lot of students who may not know that if you took a little bit of math and science you could develop robots like we’re seeing here at the STEM Summit. That’s something exciting that kids like to do. Now, they like their computer programs, they like their phone applications. You know, those are things our students can identify with but we’ve got to reach deep down into, say, the middle school and start talking to our children about the professions, the skill sets that they would need to find a job that would be interesting for them in the future.

Rob: What role do skills and skill certifications and vocational skills, what role will they play in this new 21st century economy?

Fallin: Well, if we look at the United States and where we fall within the 34 industrialized nations in the world, America is falling behind. We’re 14th in reading, we’re 25th in math, 17th in science. We’ve got to do a better job in the United States in getting our skill sets up so we can be competitive as a nation.

Rob: All right. Certainly some exciting times here in the state and in the country. Thank you so much Madam Governor.

Fallin: Thank you. I appreciate you.