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Oklahoma Bakery says Polish graduates more qualified than Okies

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TULSA, Okla. -- A Tulsa bakery company is opening a new factory in Poland because they can't find qualified Oklahomans to work for them, according to an article in the latest issue of The Economist.

The "Best and brightest" article says BAMA Companies is "struggling to find Okies with the skills to fill even its most basic factory jobs.  Such posts require workers to think critically, yet graduates of local schools are often unable to read or do simple maths [sic]."

BAMA Companies' boss, Paula Marshall, was quoted as saying "we hear that educated people are plentiful [in Poland]."

"That's why we have to raise the bar in this state," State Superintendent Janet Barresi said Thursday at a Greater OKC Chamber "State of the Schools" conference in Oklahoma City. "That's what we're focused on at the department is bringing more science and math to our schools. More programs. Make science and math exciting for kids."

There are currently 7,000 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) jobs in Oklahoma, but only 3,000 qualified applicants in our state.

"If we're going to be competitive in this new knowledge-based economy, we have to produce graduates who have the skills to meet the needs of our workforce," Glen Johnson, Chancellor of the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education, said.

OKC Chamber CEO Roy Williams said more companies are now hiring those with advanced college degrees.

"They're not hiring people coming out of high school. They're hiring college graduates," Williams said, "And so that's the kind of jobs that are really gaining traction in Oklahoma."

To improve STEM testing and interest among students, the state is using programs like the "Think Through" math program - an interactive digital learning tool to help kids become ready for algebra by the eighth grade.

Another strategy is using mentoring programs involving companies like Chesapeake Energy.

"I think going into the grade schools is not too early to talk about 'this is what you can do to better your life and have a great job and a great career'," Kip Welch, Director of Recruitment at Chesapeake Energy.

BAMA Companies VP of Enterprise Risk Management, Rob Martinek, told NewsChannel 4 the company had not read the article as of Thursday afternoon, and they would not immediately comment.

Barresi said online math tutoring and teacher training will also help graduates become "career ready."

Only 37% of Oklahoma high school graduates met this year's math benchmark on the ACT - seven points lower than the national average.