The drive to spark interest in STEM, close the skills gap

TULSA — Recent statistics indicate historically low unemployment rates in the US, the best in half a century.

So employers have to compete to attract workers, and for manufacturing companies, that can be especially challenging.

The solution, many believe, is to get young people interested in science, technology, and engineering - STEM - and then show them a path to a well-paying career which can be pursued without necessarily racking up huge amounts of student debt.

AAON, based in Tulsa, builds heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems for customers all over the country.

[IN-DEPTH: KRMG's Russell Mills speaks with AAON's Mark Fly and Stephanie Cameron]

Stephanie Cameron is community relations director for AAON, and part of her mission is to reach out to young people to promote STEM.

“Work force is the number one challenge for manufacturers,” she told KRMG recently. “The average age of a high-skilled worker is 56, and so we don’t have enough people interested and familiar with skilled trades to fill those positions.”

She's promoting STEM every chance she gets, and tells KRMG AAON is offering some real opportunities, including paid internships and support for continuing education.

HVAC may sound boring to some, but AAON's building a one-of-a-kind research and testing facility called the Norman Asbjornson Innovation Center.

It's run by executive director Mark Fly, who tells KRMG an associate's degree in HVAC, or even just an affinity for working on cars, was once enough to get into the trade.

"Today, I have to have’em with computer skills,” he told KRMG. For example, “this whole innovation center has hundreds of thousands of data points, all networked together on computers.”

And as Cameron points out, they need workers with a wide range of technical, physical, and even literary skills to operate.

As of this writing, their website indicates they have a number of openings:

  • Professional: Managers, Engineers, Warranty, Parts Distribution, Accounting/Credit, Sales and Marketing, and Office Support Staff
  • Skilled Trades: Maintenance Technicians (Mechanical/Electrical), Brazers, Welders, HVAC Technicians, Wirers, Forklift Drivers, and Painters
  • Entry Level Positions: Machine Operators, Assemblers, Warehouse, and Shipping

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