In what officials hope will become a model for the nation, Oklahoma's higher education, career-tech and common education communities are working with Tinker Air Force Base to fill the work force and skills gap that the base faces within five years when more than 46 percent of its civilian employees become eligible for retirement.
"Who's going to come along behind them?" Major General Charles Johnson II, Tinker commander, said of the base's aging work force.
Not only are many workers retiring, he said, but the base finds itself in competition with the private sector for the best employees.
"We're going to compete because we're going to get an educated work force," Johnson said. "An educated work force we must have, or Tinker will not survive."
The partnership will address both the work force training needs of the 16,000-civilian-employee Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center and the more than 8,000 other workers that include Air Force and other personnel.
Signed Monday by Gov. Frank Keating, Chancellor Hans Brisch, career-tech director Ann Benson and Johnson, the Tinker Education Partnership Agreement provides the base with access to programs and services available from state colleges and universities, career technology centers and public schools.
The program will also utilize the Online College of Oklahoma and OneNet in delivering services.
"Meeting work force development needs in any industry is vital for a prosperous economy," said Brisch. "We are excited that through this partnership, Oklahoma's higher education system has an opportunity to showcase its rich abundance of education and training resources to the military. It's imperative that this state possesses a highly skilled and trained work force in the 21st century, not just in the military, but throughout all aspects of our economy."
The program, which officials described as a means of protecting the central Oklahoma economy as well as national security, has been in the works for about nine months.
"Central Oklahoma has an incredible range of education resources within commuting distance of Tinker Air Force Base," said Johnson. "The positive response of these institutions and leadership in the education community to this partnership has been very gratifying. Together, we can provide outstanding training and employment opportunities for Oklahoma's young people and ensure that Tinker remains a vital contributor to the nation's security."
Regents Chair Joe Mayer agreed.
"Oklahoma's economy hinges a great deal on the stability of Tinker Air Force Base and its thousands of civilian and non- civilian employees," Mayer said. "It's extremely important that we assist them in any way possible so that they can continue to be a growing, dynamic and vital player in not only our economy but also in our national security."
The agreement is aimed at providing Tinker employees with the technical training and educational opportunities they must have in today's global marketplace.
"It's anticipated that what we are about to do here will become a kind of national model," said Brisch.
Apprentice programs may involve both classroom and on-the-job training, at the end of which students will be placed in jobs specific to their training, certification or degree. Supervisors may attend courses in government, management, counseling and other subjects designed to increase their professional and business skills.
High-tech workers such as engineers and scientists will benefit from special programs intended to enhance critical computer software skills. Other ideas for attracting more high-tech workers include internships providing part-time employment for individuals interested in obtaining degrees in those fields and employing students at the end of their junior year.
"We're pleased to be one of the key players in the Tinker Education Partnership Agreement that will help solve this labor shortage," said Benson. …