Though technology is shaping our workforce to one of automation, with the implementation of robots and self-driving cars, there is still significant need for skilled, trade workers in the manufacturing industry.  The existing gap in the readiness of skilled trade workers is a nationwide challenge, yet an ecosystem of opportunity exists locally in our own backyard.  As the Tulsa Port of Catoosa continues to see an increase in shipping, it will see an increase in the need for a qualified workforce.  In March alone, 202,917 tons of waterborne cargo were shipped in and out of the Tulsa Port.

As a ‘multimodal’ shipping complex and industrial park, the Tulsa Port offers various shipping options including waterway, truck and rail which creates a diverse pool for workforce needs.  Seventy companies are currently located within the 2,000-acre industrial park at the Tulsa Port, which results in over 3,000 employees. Many of the companies located at the Port are now hiring and looking to increase their workforce.

“With the number of jobs available at the Port and in all types of manufacturing in our area, it’s important that the future workforce understand that these types of jobs pay well above minimum wage and come with benefits and opportunities,” said Port Authority Board Chairman, Chip McElroy.

There are so many jobs available, yet a lack of qualified candidates. Why? One challenge is the current perception of the manufacturing industry.  Most people aren’t aware of the opportunities available or the benefits of these types of careers.  The average salary in Oklahoma for manufacturing positions is $64,473, according to Dream It Do It Oklahoma.  Dream It Do It is a local initiative that showcases the incredible career opportunities available in manufacturing to the emerging workforce.  The Tulsa Port actively works with organizations like Dream It Do It, OK2Grow and others to help change the perception by educating students.

“At OK2Grow, we are helping connect students with the key industries in our state,” said Stephanie Cameron, State Director. “It’s crucial to start recruiting the future workforce early so they can obtain the skills needed to have quality careers in Oklahoma.”

As with most gaps in the workforce, it all starts with education.  The Tulsa Port is unique to others in the region in that it has a dedicated Maritime Education Center and program led by Sheila Shook, a former Early Childhood teacher.  Over 10,000 people of all ages visited the Maritime Education Center in 2017.  In addition to focusing on community awareness, the Tulsa Port hosts career fairs and workshops to educate students on the benefits of working in the manufacturing industry.  On May 2, the Tulsa Port will host its annual ‘Who Works the River’ career event.  This is an opportunity for high school students to learn about the types of careers that are available along and connected to the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System.

“’Who Works the River’ isn’t your average career fair,” said Sheila Shook, maritime education coordinator. “It’s a fun, hands-on, event where the future workforce can become fully immersed learning about life working on an inland waterway.”

Last year was the first year for the traveling ‘Who Works the River’ discovery display to set up shop at the Tulsa Port. Because last year’s event was so successful, Shook believes the momentum will only grow for future events.

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