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Empowering Students

Students realize ambitions, dreams through the Oklahoma CareerTech system

Empowering Students

Hunter Poston, a paramedic, received his training from the Oklahoma CareerTech system. Photo by James Pratt

Story Highlights

Oklahoma CareerTech systems serve across the state with 29 technology center districts and 58 campuses 

High school students within a technology center district attend tuition-free and can earn transferrable college credit in the process.

Courses, also offered to adults, are organized into 17 career clusters.

94% of CareerTech graduates are successfully placed, including those entering the work force or the military and those continuing their education.

CareerTech helped more than 8,000 companies increase profitability while providing training for more than 2,500 new jobs.

 

Hunter Poston is literally a lifesaver. As a paramedic with LifeNet EMS in Stillwater, his arrival on the scene of an accident or illness means help has arrived that can make the difference between life and death. And for Poston, his involvement with Oklahoma’s CareerTech system made that possible.

The CareerTech system serves Oklahomans across the state with 29 technology center districts at 58 campuses, where high school students in a technology center district attend tuition-free and can earn transferrable college credit in the process. Courses, also offered to adults, are organized into 17 career clusters, including information technology; manufacturing; transportation, distribution and logistics; human services; architecture and construction; science, technology, engineering and mathematics; the newest one, energy, and the one that attracted Poston, health science.

While a student at Perkins-Tryon High School, Poston enrolled in Meridian Technology Center’s pre-nursing program; after graduation, he continued his education at Northern Oklahoma College, where he studied health services technology and received an associate of applied science degree in 2016. Poston soon returned to Meridian Technology Center, obtaining his certification as an Emergency Medical Technician, then pursued the paramedic program at Central Technology Center, from which he graduated in 2019. With a passion for the field of emergency medicine, Poston’s next goal is to complete a bachelor’s degree and he is “heavily considering becoming a Physician Assistant.”

“The CareerTech system provided me with an education I could not get anywhere else,” said Poston, whose family are members of Central Electric Cooperative. “When you attend CareerTech, you join a community that supports you post-graduation in finding jobs and continuing education in your field.”

While technology centers are perhaps the most visible evidence of CareerTech’s work, there is a great deal more to the system. It’s been around since 1917, when federal legislation established funding for states to provide vocational education in agricultural/industrial trades and home economics in the pre-collegiate setting. CareerTech still has a vigorous presence in the state’s K-12 comprehensive schools, now serving 394 school districts. 

Opportunity to impact others

Providing a great example of how that works are two brothers who graduated from Kiamichi Technology Center’s (KTC) heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) program. The Lowder Brothers have not only created a successful business but also are giving back to their community by creating jobs and helping to guide the ongoing development of KTC’s HVAC program.

Justin Lowder, a member of Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative, graduated from KTC in 2005 and his brother Heath in 2008. They opened their business, Lowder Brothers Heating and Air, in Pocola in 2008 and now employ 20 people, seven of whom are graduates of the KTC program.

Justin also serves on the KTC Business and Education Council (BEC) for the HVAC program, allowing him to help keep training up-to-date with industry and work trends. 

And while many businesses have been adversely affected by COVID-19, the Lowder Brothers operation has proven fairly resilient, Justin Lowder said, adding, “The skills I’ve acquired through CareerTech have helped me through uncertain economic times. We can adapt to what is going on in the industry whether that be doing more service-oriented work or bidding more residential/commercial new construction projects.” 

Lowder sees the need for more qualified workers in his field and encourages students to consider CareerTech.

“The industry is growing but, unfortunately, the number of trained, qualified workers is not,” he said. “Trade schools are a great way to start your career with no student loan debt and you are almost always guaranteed a job.” 

 Addressing the projected workforce skills gap that Lowder mentioned is a driving force for CareerTech. Projections suggest a growing deficit in available skilled workers compared with the needs of business and industry. (Whether and how COVID-19 will affect such projections is yet to be determined.) In fact, the system’s vision is “securing Oklahoma’s future by developing a world-class workforce.”

To that end, the CareerTech system is continually seeking feedback, adapting and improving. According to Dr. Marcie Mack, director, Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education, the system’s versatility, responsiveness, and flexibility enable CareerTech to respond quickly. 

“As times change, employers need us to be able to change and adapt in a very timely manner. That’s bottom line for them and that’s what we want to do.”

Oklahoma’s CareerTech system serves as a role model for other states. 

“One of the biggest compliments we get is that other regions and states come here and see what we have in Oklahoma. They want to know how they can emulate that in their states,” Mack said. 

Pursuing excellence

CareerTech’s academic offerings are enhanced by a number of student organizations that provide opportunities for personal growth and scholastic achievement, as well as developing skills in public speaking, planning and organizing. For Gabriella Cutruzzula, membership in the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) beginning in seventh grade cultivated self-confidence, a passion for service, experience with goal-setting, and job skills—attributes which have since taken her into multiple leadership positions and established the foundation for a career in advocacy. Throughout her six years with FCCLA, Cutruzzula served as a local, district, state and national officer. 

A graduate of Drummond High School in Garfield County, Cutruzzula recently graduated from Oklahoma State University (OSU) cum laude with a degree in political science and minor in sociology. She plans to pursue a career in the legal profession, and her leadership skills have come to the fore in her experiences as an external recruitment executive for her sorority as well as serving as an intern for the OSU Board of Regents’ director of public policy.

“When interviewing for the internship,” Cutruzzula said, “I was able to speak to the experience that I have gained with advocacy because of my involvement with FCCLA.”

Not surprisingly, there’s more to the story. The CareerTech system has also deployed the Oklahoma Career Guide (OKCareerGuide.org), an online career planning system available at no charge. Users of the system can develop an individual career plan, explore careers, take assessments, build a resume and cover letter, and more. CareerTech also provides training services to business and industry and last year helped more than 8,000 companies increase profitability and assisted companies locating in Oklahoma while providing training for more than 2,500 new jobs.

“I want people to know if they’re an employer and wonder how to get training or support for their workforce, I would encourage them to give us a call,” Mack said. “They can call their local technology center or this agency. We want to be on the front line, providing solutions.” 

For more information, go to okcareertech.org.


 

NEW! CareerTech to offer Energy Cluster

 

CareerTech’s instructional offerings are organized around “career clusters,” broad groupings of specific, industry-based jobs. Historically, 16 clusters (see Page 13) have connected what students learn in school with the capabilities needed for success in college and careers.

But in spite of its prominence in Oklahoma, the energy sector has not had a career cluster of its own. Projected to have a shortage of skilled workers by 2025, energy is one of Oklahoma’s largest industries and its jobs are among the state’s highest paying. Now, in hopes that more students will be made aware of the wide range of career opportunities available within the energy sector, a 17th career cluster has been created and is expected to be launched in October 2020 during National Energy Week.

The energy cluster is one outcome of work started in 2019 by the Oklahoma Energy Workforce Consortium, a group of energy organizations that includes the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives (OAEC) and other electric companies, gas companies, oil companies, educational entities and government. 

The Energy Cluster within the CareerTech system will accomplish the following:

  • Showcase careers in the energy sector and provide students with identifiable educational pathways toward those careers.
  • Identify existing CareerTech programs associated with energy and articulate them as such.
  •  
  • Create new programming, such as additional lineman training, within the CareerTech system.
  • Create and implement related communication vehicles for students, teachers and the community.
  • “In the past we’ve had a lot of offerings in place relating to jobs in energy, but nothing to tie them together,” said Ric Russell, technical program supervisor for CareerTech. “The energy consortium is an avenue to pull those resources together and identify them for the benefit of energy companies and students alike.”

Additional lineman training programs are being established in Pryor, Tahlequah and Enid and, for Derec Janaway, director of safety and loss control for OAEC, it’s a welcome expansion. 

“Getting this lineman program for electric utilities out in the rural CareerTechs would be an excellent hiring tool for our member cooperatives. That’s one thing we struggle with right now; there’s a very limited number of programs in our state,” Janaway said. “For our local high school students to go through CareerTech and come out with knowledge in the electrical utility business would be a great benefit.”

Co-op management throughout the state agrees that having more opportunities to train potential linemen is valuable for electric cooperatives in the state.

“We always have a demand for linemen,” said Hamid Vahdatipour, CEO of Lake Region Electric Cooperative based in Hulbert, Oklahoma. “It’s a job that is hard to fill, so it is important that we have some folks learn the trade and we can hire them with some knowledge rather than hiring them and trying to train them.”

The Oklahoma CareerTech System is one of the few in the nation that currently offers an energy cluster. 

“We’re one of only five or six states which have created an Energy Cluster and we are really excited about it,” Cori Gray, CareerTech’s deputy state director, said. “Energy is one of those top careers in our state so the opportunity to showcase it is a great thing.”