(second in a series)
OKLAHOMA CITY – Bob Funk, Sr., former chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City, is pressing for greater use of career technical education (CTE) in common schools (K-12) – as an alternative, or in addition to, preparation for traditional college degrees.
He is also calling for “transformational mobility” in public education and American government.
In an interview with The City Sentinel, Funk said reforms of teacher tenure and greater flexibility in the schooling system, “would attract better teachers” and help Oklahoma “become known as a place rewarding quality.”
Funk is the founder and CEO of Express Employment Professionals, America’s largest privately-held staffing firm.
In the interview, he warned, “Without changes along the lines suggested in our discussion, I think you will see curbs on growth and flexibility. If we become bold and not afraid of changes, we’ll gain in the total number of opportunities for our people.”
More broadly, the self-described “small government man” believes, “It would help if government managers would think more like a business manager. Managing a company effectively means you are experiencing change all the time, every day, every week, certainly every year. Our government, too, needs to be willing to change in the right way.
“An area where I think we could still make important changes is in workers compensation, to allow outsourcing of claims management. There has been resistance to that for a long time, but I’ve seen its benefits again and again, in the form of better support for injured workers and lower costs for business.
“In government, we could privatize many more of the engineering and road-building functions in government. I have seem smart things, wise steps to improve government service and efficiency get thwarted by lobbyists, who killed the good ideas.”
Funk continued, “What I am saying is that (with such reforms) it wouldn’t take long to grow business and thereby to provide government revenue.
“Let me make a point on this. With the fall of communism in much of the world, all the sudden there were 2 billion people willing and able to work, starting at about 25 cents a day.
In Europe, they can’t afford over-priced jobs with eight weeks of vacation. They’ve begun to adapt but in some respects they still can’t compete.
“We aren’t where Europe is, and we don’t want to be. Just as business needs to change, to become wiser, (American) government must do so, as well.”
This spring, the Oklahoma entrepreneur and his firm released a white paper declaring “College may not be for everyone.” In it, the case is made for greater, perhaps equal with college-bound curriculum, emphasis on Career Technical Education (CTE).
In the white paper, three recommendations were made for job seekers and students:
• Weigh the costs and benefits of a four-year university and a CTE credential.
• Consider the growing CTE-related careers available to you.
• Explore the business-education partnerships in your area.
As for “policymakers and stakeholders,” both state and national, recommendations in the white paper included these:
• Promote business-education partnerships.
• Inform middle school and high school students about CTE opportunities.
• Advocate for CTE.
Funk said his “most satisfying” professional moments “have come when I give people hope and opportunity, helping them to find a job. For a long time, those moments came in direct interaction with individuals. Now I am more in a teaching mode, building franchises, teaching the value of compassion in reaching that individual or individuals seeking your help.
“It’s been emotional and rewarding to watch this grow. In the past year, we put 400,000 people to work. Our company goal is to get to 1 million a year. This gives me the passion, the desire to come to work every day. Opportunity. Image Building. Good management of workers. I love it.”
The founder of Express Employment Professionals sat for a wide-ranging interview at his company’s world headquarters in northwest Oklahoma City.
Near the end of our time, he said, “Let me share one quick story. Just recently, last few months, a fellow asked to talk to me, saying he only needed a little time and wanted to thank me. When we shook hands he asked if I remembered him, and I confessed I did not. He told me, ‘Ten years ago, I asked for your help.’
“He said we sat together and he laid out the structure of his little company, how he managed and details about his business. He said that after listening and making some notes, I suggested a handful of things he might do differently. That was it. A decade ago.
“He said my advice from that session had helped. Then, he floored me.
“The man said he had just days before sold his ‘little’ company, which had grown a lot, for $321 million. You just don’t know, sometimes. I thought I would cry, to hear a story like that.
“I have sometimes described this as a ministry of helping others. I want to help just as many people as I possibly can. We can document placing 5,900 new workers in positions in the past month. We’ve helped 397,000 since January 2013. That is what fires me up, gives me joy and keeps me coming to work every day.”
(McGuigan is bureau chief for the Watchdog.org network; editor of CapitolBeatOK.com, associate publisher of The City Sentinel newspaper, and a regular commentator for News9, the CBS affiliate in Oklahoma City.)