After the recent announcement of a $1 million grant to benefit 375 students at Tri County Tech in Bartlesville, the school’s computer server crashed as a result of the overwhelming response.
“Our website got clobbered for the first 24 hours,” Tri County Tech Superintendent and CEO Lindel Fields said. “I’m an optimistic guy, but I didn’t anticipate the response that we got. It has been absolutely amazing.”
More than 500 people applied in 10 days, illustrating a significant need for training that will allow Oklahomans to get back on their feet following the COVID-19 pandemic.
Financed by Gov. Kevin Stitt’s Emergency Education Relief fund, the Skills to Rebuild initiative will provide accelerated programs to train 375 people to immediately enter well-paying jobs in high demand in the region, generating an annual payroll of $10 million in Oklahoma’s private sector.
The grant allows Tri County Tech to make the programs tuition-free for students who complete them. Tri County Tech has one of the highest completion rates in the nation at 95%.
“We are about changing lives,” Fields said. “Our programs aren’t that expensive, but even a few hundred dollars to someone right now can be the difference between where they are and (where they can have) success.”
The program will get students into the workforce in as little as two months by offering accelerated certifications in accounting, health care, nursing, child development, computer networking or cybersecurity, and manufacturing. While shortening the traditional time to complete these programs by 20%, Skills to Rebuild maintains the same standards for certifications and graduation.
“A new and emerging workforce must be upskilled and trained to move the needle on Oklahoma’s 12% unemployment rate, and it is incumbent upon education in Oklahoma to innovate and respond quickly,” Stitt said in a statement. “Tri County Tech is breaking the mold of continuing education by offering several accelerated courses targeted for industries where there is known demand and ample opportunity for career growth.”
In Tri County’s district, which serves Washington, Nowata and Osage counties, Tri County Tech has identified a need for more than 200 frontline nurse assistants and 60 licensed practical nurses. Many of the potential students seeking inclusion in Skills to Rebuild are interested in becoming nurses, Fields said.
“The Tri County Tech’s Skills to Rebuild project is an innovative educational initiative for essential workers on the frontlines of caring for Oklahomans,” said Mike Moore, president of Ascension St. John Jane Phillips in Bartlesville. “Ascension St. John Jane Phillips will be taking full advantage of these quality training opportunities.
“The accessibility and flexibility of these certified courses allow the underemployed and unemployed to immediately gain the skills needed to influence their lives, businesses, and the economy in Oklahoma.”
The program is open to Oklahoma residents, who can apply online at tricountytech.edu/adult/skills. The first round of classes is slated to begin in August, and most courses will be offered virtually and on evenings and weekends to accommodate working students.
“We have to be innovative and do things differently, because people want to get back to work,” Fields said. “It’s imperative for educators to make those opportunities happen.”