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Robert Sommers, director of the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education and Oklahoma secretary of education and workforce development, speaks to the editorial board for The Lawton Constitution about his goals for career tech education in Oklahoma.

State education head wants residents to be prepared for changes

Robert Sommers, director of the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education and Oklahoma secretary of education and workforce development, wants Oklahomans to be fully prepared for the ever-changing workplace.

Sommers, who outlined some of his views for the editorial board of The Lawton Constitution last week, said the United States has tried to create a one-size-fits-all public education system, which does not work, in his opinion.

He said the nation is experiencing the highest rate of workforce disengagement among young men since the Great Depression. Sommers believes career tech education can help instill a sense of purpose and passion for viable careers in young people.

College education not sufficient

In the modern economy, he said, a college education alone is not sufficient to make someone employable. Many of the most lucrative jobs also require industry credentials, such as certifications. Sommers believes career tech can fill that gap.

In order to prepare Oklahoma's young people for the jobs that are in demand, Sommers said, there needs to be better collaboration between common education, career tech schools, traditional universities and colleges and the business community. Students need to be able to move seamlessly between college and career tech, with the two experiences complementing each other, rather than competing for students. In Oklahoma, many career tech programs also lead to college credit.

Sommers said it doesn't make sense for the different branches of education to be separate. Career education needs to be blended with academics, he said.

Proficiency should be the measure of success used for awarding academic credit, not seat time in classrooms, he said.

Oklahoma career tech education is focused on helping students prepare for careers by making informed choices in school and learning to balance work and family life, offering customized training to benefit employers, and advocating advanced academic offerings that will prepare students for high-tech jobs, he said.

Sommers said he supports making it possible for more Oklahoma students to graduate from high school with industry credentials that will allow them to start work immediately, even if they are going on to college.

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