In order to retrain workers, programs must be available. Locally, the Southern Oklahoma Technology Center and the University Center of Southern Oklahoma work with local businesses to create programs that correspond to local needs.

"When people call me saying they need these people, it tells me they need to be trained in that field," says Dr. Robin Plumb, director of academic services for Southeastern Oklahoma State University at UC.

Through Southeastern, new programs have been developed in the last year in occupational safety, hospitality, and early intervention and child development.

Safety is a popular program on the main campus in Durant, so Plumb asked for it to be offered in Ardmore.

"People in the oil fields and industry would ask for it. Students would come in wanting it. Now we have finally been able to get it," Plumb explains.

With the rise in tourism jobs, such as hotels and casinos, the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations and other local hotel enterprises drove the desire for a hospitality management program.

The new offering was developed within the business department already in existence at UC.

The No Child Left Behind Act requires bachelor's degrees for those who work with even the youngest children, hence the development of the early intervention and child development program. It is the first online degree of its kind in the state.

In all three examples, local businesses provide adjunct professors to teach the courses.

"There is a nationwide push for partnerships," Plumb says. "If we form partnerships and be good partners and provide what they need, they will help us, too. It's smart to do, especially as state funding decreases. We have to look outside to fund and support these programs."

At SOTC, the new manufacturing building houses programs in mechatronics, and design and fabrication.

Fabrication and design instructor Stephen Hadwin first noticed the shortage while working for 3M. When hiring machinists, Hadwin would often have to recruit from other states, including Texas, Pennsylvania and California.

This prompted him to become involved with developing a program at SOTC. The program became a part of the 2008 bond project, and is now in its second year of teaching students.

The program also has a standing advisory board comprised of area business owners from as far away as Duncan and Gainesville, to make sure curriculum is focusing on relevant topics.

"They provide input on what students need to be learning. Some years we may have a new emphasis, but these students will be able to go anywhere and work," Hadwin says.

Nationally, public-private partnerships have emerged as another source of support for retraining workers. Companies will help colleges offer job training specific to their industry, and often hire the graduates. Microsoft Corp., Caterpillar Inc., Burlington Northern-Santa Fe railroad, McDonald's, Gap Inc., United Technologies Inc. and energy giant PG&E Corp. are a just few of the companies involved in job training.

Community college job-training programs take months, not years, to ready workers for the most promising fields. Displaced workers must be willing to commit time and money, and often switch to new lines of work. Assembly line workers become nurses. Former small businesses owners learn high-tech manufacturing. Older workers facing retirement study bill coding for healthcare providers.

The future of many workers, communities and entire regions, will depend on how quickly people seeking new careers can make the transition.

Tim Landis, business editor for the State Journal-Register in Springfield, Ill., also contributed to this article. He spent four weeks researching the skills gap for a GateHouse Media national reporting project.