Oklahoma is trying to get more people into work-based learning like apprenticeships, and an interim study reviewed aspects of that work.
The "Earn and Learn Oklahoma" program targets low-income residents and out-of-school youth for training and connection to apprenticeships and internships.
As part of those efforts, the state uses an ACT assessment called WorkKeys to issue a career readiness certificate. Some lawmakers wonder if the state can’t get by with a cheaper version. WorkKeys includes skills assessment, certification and job profiles. ACT’s Mary LeFebvre said it can be stripped down to the test and certification, but that would mean users aren’t guided toward careers where they may be successful.
"If you’re using this for adults to help them get a leg up by offering them training in combination with, you know, some kind of a paid work-and-learn program — whether that’s an internship or registered apprenticeship — we would think that it’s a good investment of the state dollars to kind of ensure that person’s going to be successful from day one," LeFebvre said.
The WorkKeys assessment, however, isn't working for everyone. CEO Eddie Foreman said the Central Oklahoma Workforce Innovation Board doesn’t offer the tests because they aren’t accessible for people with hearing or vision impairments.
"Even if I did use it, at $30 a head, we had 42,000 people walk through our doors. My costs alone would be $1.2 million. My budget is only $5 million a year, and I wouldn’t be able to pay for any on-the-job training, I wouldn’t be able to buy any occupational training for the clients," Foreman said.
LeFebvre also recommended steps to eliminate barriers to work-based learning programs.
Not being able to afford childcare or buy groceries can disrupt education and training, undermining work-based learning efforts. LeFebvre says the state could spend more Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds on basic assistance and work activities, and encourage agencies administering welfare to partner with the workforce system to streamline access to both.
"Those policy recommendations come from nationally reputable workforce organizations that work with those populations, and most of it’s just around federal leveraging existing funding that you all already get," LeFebvre said.
The state has 60,000 unfilled jobs with no qualified workers to take them. Of those, 18,000 are deemed critical to growing the economy.