Workforce Development and Use

The small population of the region (106,964 at 2019) and correlating small labor force are long term economic development issues that the region must address. The labor force participation rate of the regions workforce is comparable to the U.S. estimated rate of 61.5%. However, when you consider the small population, the regions labor force only averages approximately 50,000. This small number of potential employees is compounded by low unemployment rates. In 2018 unemployment rate in the region was 2.9%, 3.0% in 2019, and 6.2% in June of 2020 even considering the effects of COVID-19 and a bust cycle of oil and gas on the economy.

The problems of an oil and gas economy rear its head again in unemployment figures and population. In 2017 the total labor force for the region was 52,137 and unemployment was 3.8% at 1,993, subsequently in June of 2020 the labor force was 47,759 and unemployment 6.2% or 2,966. So, the labor force went down by 4,378 but unemployment only went up 973. Southwest Oklahoma lost 3,405 (6.5%) of workers from its labor force. Additionally, some of those workers that disappeared took families with them. Due to the recency of this change in our workforce, other economic effects from this mass exodus of higher paid labor have not yet been realized. Obviously, other factors play some part in this issue but the oil and gas boom and bust cycle is the most significant. We must find a way to further diversify our economy within other sectors with stable, quality jobs that bring people to our region.

Because we have a small workforce, we must have a quality workforce that meets the future needs of employers to allow the region to be economically competitive.

As demonstrated in the following skills gap analysis, the current percentage of educational achievement of residents was directly compared to the percentage of entry level education required by newly created jobs projected to develop between 2019 and 2024. The current level of educational attainment will not meet the needs of future jobs.

Actions from workforce partner discussions

• Improve the skills of our workforce and educational attainment beyond high school.

• Improve skills within the existing workforce.

• Prioritize jobs or skills that grow other economic opportunities.

• Increase use of career counseling and pathways in K-12.

• Better utilize growing Hispanic population in the workforce and assist employers, employees, communities, and school resources to improve communications barriers.

• Review daycare issues with interested partners and share proven solutions with employers, schools, and nonprofits, and to increase public awareness.

• Recruit population/employees to the district including recruitment of veterans.

• Expand adult basic education sites in area to provide opportunities for working adults.