As Great Plains Tech moves further into the school year, little pieces of normalcy are beginning to creep back. We are pleased to be hosting our advisory committees again and gaining the insight that only comes from stakeholders who are invested in growing their future labor force. Each year for the past 50 years, we have invited hundreds of advisors to bring us their words of wisdom and predictions for future workforce needs twice per year. Last spring, when advisory committees were cancelled due to the pandemic, was the first and only time this rule has been suspended in my 41 years of working here at Great Plains. Now, in the fall of 2020, we may again gather to discuss the programs and services offered at Great Plains Tech and collect input to improve our organization and its services to the community.

The meetings will be held either virtually or in person. In person meetings will be conducted under the current health guidelines outlined by both the CDC and the City of Lawton. We will have well over 300 advisors gathering in small, socially distanced groups or virtually. Some groups will meet in large rooms that can accommodate six feet between members. Some committees will meet outdoors. Some will meet virtually via Zoom or other distance technology. The method does not matter, except in terms of preserving the health and welfare of our stakeholders and staff. What matters is the opportunity to truly evaluate our programs, outcomes, successes, and needs for improvement. For this information, we rely heavily on advisors. Our advisors are in the field every day, providing the services and skills for which we train. There is no better expert than the person who works in the industry every day and sees the changes happening in real time.

It is not just our occupational programs that collect advisor information. Nearly every service has a committee. Great Plains Tech has an over-arching Institutional Advisory Committee to provide input to our leadership. Student Support Services gathers input from school counselors and community agencies through their committee. The Economic Development Center gathers information about emerging trends in the overall labor force and potential needs for employer-based training or support. Our (can we spell out SCORE here?) credit recovery program meets with public school representatives and other invested stakeholders to support long-term retention and completion of the program. The Adult Basic Education Program gathers input from their stakeholders on everything from teaching English as a Second Language to how to motivate and retain people who want to gain a high school equivalency certificate. The sheer number of programs and services demands that we seek out the opinions of experts and use those suggestions to improve our programs and services.

No school operates in a vacuum. Without the input of community stakeholders, we would be totally reliant on data that may or may not apply to our training programs here in Southwest Oklahoma. There are great sources of information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, and local Workforce Investment Boards. Any school official can research and look at trending data nationally and regionally. Still, Great Plains Tech exists to serve the needs of Southwest Oklahoma and we believe advisors from our local industries and businesses are our best source for what is needed right here and right now.

So, to the 300 or so advisors on well over 40 committees, we take this opportunity to welcome you back. We sorely missed our Spring meeting and are looking forward to hearing how your industries, shops, offices, labs, and work sites have dealt with the changes brought on by global pandemic. You can advise us and we, in turn, can pass that information on to our students. What’s it like out there in the real world? Only our advisors can give us that first-hand picture we need to move forward into the future with confidence and commitment to our service area.

Clarence Fortney is superintendent of Great Plains Technology Center.

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