Guest Blog (Erin Lamey) – Workforce Readiness: Investing in Oklahoma’s human capital

Erin Lamey is the KIDS COUNT/Research Director for the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy. KIDS COUNT is a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, dedicated to tracking child well-being.

Many young people entering Oklahoma’s workforce year-after-year are unprepared for the challenges that life in the “real world” brings. In fact, one out of four workforce-aged adults in Oklahoma lack the basic skills needed to succeed in an occupational training course or knowledge-based job. This is troublesome to Oklahoma employers seeking to recruit and retain qualified applicants. Employers want employees who are productive and require little supervision.

Oklahoma KIDS COUNT released a new issue brief today that discusses strategies to improve workforce development. We have highlighted four areas that research shows to be most effective in workforce development.

Provide children with a healthy start. By the time children turn 3, approximately 85 percent of their core brain structure has developed. Healthy brain development is key to many life skills including language ability, problem solving, and social skills. A solid foundation of healthy attachments with caring adults, proper nutrition, and language development increase a child’s ability to learn. Children living in impoverished households are more likely to face challenges that hinder healthy brain growth. Parental support is critical in such households. Programs that offer parental support, such as evidence-based home visitation services, are important in protecting children in their earliest years. The state of Oklahoma invests in three home visitation programs: Children First and Start Right through the Oklahoma State Department of Health and Oklahoma Parents as Teachers through the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

Increase school readiness in Oklahoma. If a child has a healthy start they will be more likely to have the tools they need to be successful for the rest of their life. School readiness and language development are key predictors of academic success.  Children in low-income households are the least likely to receive a high-quality early childhood education. This results in a school readiness gap that begins when children enter kindergarten and never narrows. Access to early childcare programs is necessary for success.

Ensure that children read by third grade. Three out of four students who read below grade level at the end of third grade continue to read below grade level in high school. Reading proficiency at the end of third grade is also a reasonable predictor of whether or not they will graduate from high school. There is a huge gap between the reading proficiency level of children from low-income homes and children who are not low-income. This gap exists, without exception, in all 50 states in the nation, according to the KIDS COUNT Data Center. Forty-nine percent of Oklahoma’s children are low-income. Strategies that increase literacy are vital to the future success of our workforce.

Increase academic awareness and discipline in the middle grades. A recent study determined that “The level of academic achievement that students attain by eighth grade has a larger impact on their career and college readiness…than anything that happens academically in high school.” When the proper academic and social foundation is laid, students are the most successful. If remediation is delayed until high school it is seldom effective. Teaching career awareness and academic discipline before the end of middle school has been shown to increase college and career success.

By investing in these four critical areas, the high school graduation rate will improve, the college remediation rate will improve and the future of Oklahoma’s workforce will be brighter. Investing in children to ensure they reach their full potential is the key to a capable, productive and technology-driven workforce.

The opinions stated above are not necessarily those of OK Policy, its staff, or its board. This blog is a venue to help promote the discussion of ideas from various points of view and we invite your comments and contributions. To see our guidelines for blog submissions, click here.



Former Executive Director David Blatt joined OK Policy in 2008 and served as its Executive Director from 2010 to 2019. He previously served as Director of Public Policy for Community Action Project of Tulsa County and as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma State Senate. He has a Ph.D. in political science from Cornell University and a B.A. from the University of Alberta. David has been selected as Political Scientist of the Year by the Oklahoma Political Science Association, Local Social Justice Champion by the Dan Allen Center for Social Justice, and Public Citizen of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers.

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