Free Career Training Offer Draws Crowd

Tulsa World Economic Comeback

August 16, 2020

Tri County Tech Superintendent Lindel Fields saw a need for career training as people lost jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic. But he had no expectation the demand would be as great as it is.

Gov. Kevin Stitt announced July 10 that the state would provide a $1 million grant to Tri County Tech for tuition-free and accelerated career training with the aim of filling 375 high-demand jobs in the Bartlesville area.

As of Aug. 13, the technical school has received 1,100 applications for the program.

“People want and need to get back to work, that’s what it tells me. Ninety-five percent of these programs are open to people without any kind of training at all. Some have requirements to get in but no experience is necessary for most of them.”

Lindel Fields | Superintendent & CEO

The Skills to Build initiative targets the needs of local employers for certified workers in accounting, health care, nursing, child development, computer networking, cybersecurity, machining and manufacturing. The average pay for all of these jobs is $15 an hour, but some can be as high as $21 or more an hour.

Fields had expected to train 150-175 students in the first semester and the same number the second semester. Instead, there are 350 people enrolled for the fall semester alone.

“We are at 120 percent capacity. We’re even full for the spring now. We’re trying to figure out how to stand up more programs because all the slots we had available are full. We’ll be opening more. We’re just trying to figure it out.”

Lindel Fields | Superintendent & CEO

At first, Fields thought people needed to put “some skin in the game” and considered requiring them to pitch in around 25 percent of tuition costs for the training. But even as affordable as these Tri County Tech programs are — about $2,500 in total — Fields said the cost is still insurmountable for many.

“Well, $2,500 for a single mom living paycheck to paycheck might as well be the Great Wall of China,” Fields said.

The length of the programs range from two to 10 months, with the longer training schedule meaning just two nights per week and possibly one Saturday each month.

Fields said Tri County Tech has had most of these programs in place as “flex and fast-track” programs to get people “upskilled” and back to work.

“But the idea to offer them with tuition waivers was an idea I had,” he said. “I saw so many people laid off and in the unemployment line.”

Within 10 days of Fields suggesting the Skills to Build program to the Oklahoma Secretary of State, Stitt had committed the funding through the CARES Act Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund.

“This pandemic hasn’t been selective. These are people who are underemployed and unemployed. “

Lindel Fields | Superintendent & CEO

“This pandemic hasn’t been selective. These are people who are underemployed and unemployed.” Fields said.

The students come from all walks of life. Just last week, he had conversations with a single mom in her late 20s as well as a man in his 40s with a degree from Oklahoma State University who is taking machining because he was laid off from his oil and gas job.

“Unemployment is not a sustainable economic solution, and Tri County is here to help.”

Lindel Fields | Superintendent & CEO