The Senate Finance Committee has passed legislation that will help match Oklahomans with jobs identified by the state Department of Commerce as critical occupations.
Senate Bill 1639 would create the Quality Workforce Act, which would incentivize Oklahoma companies to pay for employees to gain a degree or industry certificate in high-need job areas.
While Oklahoma’s unemployment rate of skilled labor continues to stay far below the national average, businesses struggle to find and employ qualified workers, limiting business production, economic expansion and state revenue growth. According to the Department of Commerce, nearly 48 percent of Oklahomans above the age of 25 have no post-secondary training.
“We have to make sure all Oklahomans have the skills needed to compete in a 21st Century global economy. This legislation will help improve the educational attainment of our citizens while matching them with jobs in areas where there are high-paying jobs available right now. It is a true win-win for the state,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman, author of the bill.
Details of Senate Bill 1639:
Companies would pay the cost of tuition and materials for a current or potential employee to gain a certificate or degree. After completion, and with documentation from an accredited organization of both the certificate/degree and proof of payment, the business would be eligible for a rebate that refunded the cost.
Only firms that met the stringent thresholds to qualify for Quality Jobs would be eligible. This would include factors such as industry classification, average wage and insurance.
Qualifying companies would be eligible for a rebate not to exceed 5 percent of the average wage of their employees on an annual basis. For example, if the average wage is $50k, then the company could receive a rebate of $2,500 per certificate/degree completed. The amount would be fiscally neutral as the newly certified employee will have increased production capacity, earn a higher wage and contribute to a positive state return.
To incentivize companies to actively recruit and invest in specific cohorts, a premium could be applied to the rebate amount. For instance, a 10 percent premium could be added if the certificate/degree is earned by someone previously on Soonercare. An additional 5 percent could be added if the person is a veteran. These costs would be offset by the reduction of public assistance that may have previously been needed.
To assist companies in identifying and recruiting potential candidates, www.okjobmatch.com could be expanded to provide a jobseeker database of the specific industry jobs.
Oklahoma’s Quality Jobs is considered the premier incentive for business growth as it is performance based, limited to wealth generating industries, and fiscally accountable. Using the principles of Quality Jobs, a rebate could be created to incentivize companies to invest in their own workforce, thereby supporting Oklahoma business retention and expansion.
“This legislation will help encourage Oklahomans to seek an industry certification or associate’s degree to make them more marketable and raise their lifetime earning potential significantly, all while filling needed jobs in Oklahoma now,” said Sen. John Ford, who carried the bill in committee today.
The legislation passed the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday with a vote of 9-1 and will now move to the full Senate for further consideration.