OKLAHOMA CITY (OBV) – Oklahoma legislators and state workforce officials gathered recently to discuss strategies for improving workforce participation in Oklahoma.
Rep. Mark Tedford, R-Tulsa, led the interim study at the State Capitol. The study was held before the House Business and Commerce Committee.
“In my short time as a state representative, workforce issues have dominated discussions nationwide,” Tedford said. “As of 2020, Oklahoma ranked 3% behind the national average in workforce participation. Knowing the significance of this difference, I wanted to understand the reasons behind it.”
Oklahoma’s workforce participation rate hovers around 60-61 percent.
“While Oklahoma’s workforce participation is improving, it remains low compared to the national average,” Tedford said. “There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but efforts should focus on removing barriers to work, improving overall academic achievement and adapting to evolving labor needs.”
An array of Oklahoma workforce experts spoke during the interim study, contributing key insights on the state’s workforce participation concerns.
Workforce participation includes individuals who are either employed, actively seeking jobs or working time, Lynn Gray, director of economic research and analysis at the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, explained during the interim study.
Retirement, disability, caregiving responsibilities and educational attainment are the four primary reasons adults do not seek employment, according to John Chiappe, director of research and economic analysis services at the Oklahoma Department of Commerce.
Childcare accessibility also impacts workforce participation in the state.
Julie Trivitt, a senior economist at Heartland Forward, said that although Oklahoma’s childcare cost and quality were higher than the national average, accessibility remained a challenge. She said the state’s wages were below the national average, which causes childcare expenses to exceed 20 percent of many mothers’ incomes, making childcare unaffordable.
The discussion veered into academics and how schools can better prepare students to enter Oklahoma’s workforce. The legislators and workforce officials spoke about prioritizing vocational education by emphasizing attainment of meaningful work certificates over college degrees.
Speakers Bradley Ward, deputy state director at Americans for Prosperity, and Marissa Lightsey, executive director of college and career readiness at the State Department of Education, said more degree programs must meet specific high-tech jobs demands, and said pathways are needed to guide students to those careers at an early age.
Angela Rachidi, senior fellow and Rowe scholar from the American Enterprise Institute, suggested addressing benefit cliffs and implementing work requirements could improve labor participation in the state.