301.519.9237 exdirector@nesaus.org

9.3.22 – Yahoo –Leslie Osborn

As Oklahoma celebrates Labor Day, the Labor Department remains focused on occupational licensure reform and critical job shortages.

Editor’s Note: This column is submitted by a candidate running for election. Its publication does not constitute The Oklahoman’s endorsement of the candidate or her views. The Oklahoman does not endorse candidates for public office.

President Grover Cleveland signed the celebration of Labor Day into law as a national holiday in 1894, and we have honored the American worker annually since then. In over a century, our labor markets, trends and how we work have dramatically changed. Child labor laws, formation of unions for better working conditions and wages, and the evolution of many more women in the workforce have all been transformational changes in our country’s labor history.

Today, at the Oklahoma State Department of Labor, we ensure that wages are paid, child labor laws are enforced, and people have safe environments to work in. A few things that we are currently excited about working on are occupational licensure reform and critical job shortages.

The Oklahoma Legislature passed the creation of the occupational licensure commission into law four years ago, with the goal of reviewing one quarter of the state’s jobs that require an occupational license every year. This year we completed that first round of all reviews, making annual recommendations to the Legislature on needed changes. The purpose of licensure is to ensure public safety and to guarantee the integrity of the trade or profession. When we started this work there were over 500 jobs in our state that required licensure. We have whittled that down by over half to about 200. We have also worked for second chance opportunities by removing prior felony convictions from precluding someone from attaining a license; unless the crime was violent in nature or in the field of the work being licensed. This continued oversight will ensure that we are not being expensive, onerous, or protectionist to residents entering a job market.

The other exciting thing we are working on is filling critical job shortages in our state. Those careers with the most shortages are service, trades, teaching, medical care, and engineering. Some states incentive people going into the needed career fields, but Oklahoma is a very low tax state, 48th in the nation in overall tax collections. With the tight state budgets that causes, incentive stipends are not reliable. Instead, we are looking at creative ways to encourage entry.

One such partnership is with Oklahoma City Public Schools. In its upcoming bond issue will be included dollars to re-implement shop class in many of their schools. Oklahoma is woefully short in tradesmen and women, and one of the reasons is the trend toward college-ready preparation in our schools to the detriment of having time for things like shop class, where many young people traditionally found their niche. With critical shortages in the trades, we convened a group of trade associations, and pitched a pilot program of re-starting shop classes in the schools. When teachers identify kids with the aptitude and work ethic, they can start them on the journey into apprenticeships and career tech education to fill these slots. The jobs will be lucrative, needed, and require no student debt. If successful, we would like to partner on replicating this model throughout the state, and more importantly into other careers experiencing shortages.

Often in state government we study things, make recommendations, and lack implementation and follow through. We at the state Labor Department hope to change that.

Leslie Osborn is the Oklahoma Labor Commissioner.

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Opinion: Oklahoma Labor Department focused on critical job shortages