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As we wrap up National Career Development Month, businesses and job seekers in Oklahoma City and Tulsa have a chance to look at recent statistics through the lens of opportunity for all. While there’s a lot of talk about which people are available to fill which jobs, we have a rare chance to build careers and transform our workforce and economy.

A recent U.S. Labor Department Jobs Report shows construction jobs are up by 44,000 nationally but are still 150,000 below the February 2020 level. Here, amid the “great resignation” and an ongoing migration to the metropolitan areas of Oklahoma, people need to know they can get trained—and start working in—skilled labor careers like construction, which offer a myriad of opportunities for advancement and personal economic stability.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau indicated that nearly two-thirds of Oklahoma counties saw their populations decrease over the past decade, losing a combined 69,000 residents, while our predominantly urban and suburban counties of Canadian, Cleveland, Oklahoma and Tulsa saw populations grow by about 277,000 people—a net gain of about 208,000 statewide in the past decade.

This means that our cities are growing and while that’s good for our industry, it is also good for those coming to Oklahoma City or Tulsa looking to build a life for themselves. Those newcomers who choose to cultivate highly sought-after skills in pursuit of a career will put themselves on a path to a brighter future in our state.

I lead the Oklahoma City and Tulsa offices for JE Dunn Construction, one of the national leaders in commercial construction. We’re proud to nurture eager talent from a robust intern program towards comprehensive learning and development opportunities. But, even before people come to us, there are programs such as Work Ready Oklahoma to help folks decide which skilled trades might suit their interests and which employer is ready to offer them ongoing career growth.

People may not realize how rewarding a career in construction can be—financially and in terms of quality of life. As an example, our company offers Wellness programs, mental health support, paid-time off, and parental leave. I believe a big contributing factor—especially coming out of the pandemic—is that people want more than just a way to earn a living. They want to do something they can be proud of and meaningful ways to spend their days.

I have been in the construction industry for 24 years, and the last 7 of those years at JE Dunn. I can attest to the fact that we don’t do it for the pat on the back. The recognition, along with the projects we win and most importantly the people who come work at JE Dunn, help illustrate that we’re doing things right. We recently ranked in the top five Best Companies to Work for in Oklahoma by the Journal Record based on workplace policies, practices and demographics, and feedback from our employees. It’s a real point of pride that our people rate us so highly. It indicates that we are building something in Oklahoma that matters.

As National Career Development Month wraps up and we celebrate the holiday season, I suggest that you think about what you want to do with your days. How much fresh air and sunlight do you want to take in? Do you want to look over the skyline and wonder where you fit? Or do you want to point to it and say, “I built that?”

I know my answer.

Jason Bishop is a vice president at JE Dunn Construction and the office lead for Oklahoma City.