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In recent columns, I’ve been putting the focus on trade and business recruitment as a part of my grow Nebraska agenda. While these are both important, workforce development is another key to achieving this goal. Connecting Nebraskans to great opportunities helps build greater financial stability and ensures Nebraska remains the best place in the world to live, work, and raise a family. The frontline of growing our state starts with Nebraskans finding good-paying jobs to support themselves and their families. Over the past two years, my administration has successfully launched two employment programs that are making these connections.
A pilot program launched in Grand Island in 2016 is identifying better-paying jobs and creating greater financial independence for people struggling to put food on their tables. This is made possible by an inter-agency partnership between the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and Department of Labor (DOL) who have collaborated to help people receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, or food stamps, increase their income and rely less on government assistance.
Each department brought to the table what they know best. DOL has expertise in helping people find jobs, and DHHS provides clients resources to make their lives better. With that starting point, they developed the SNAP/DOL Employment program.
In this program, DHHS and DOL meet with participants to identify and provide assistance to overcome barriers to their success while ultimately enhancing their lives at home. DOL trains and works with SNAP participants to place them in higher-paying jobs by improving résumé writing skills, understanding job search techniques, and developing interview and on-the-job skills.
During its first year, the pilot program helped 27 Grand Island families who receive SNAP benefits. So far, workers in 14 families found higher-paying jobs that came with improved benefits and/or more stable work hours. Their lives improved not only financially, but also in terms of quality of life for their families. Participants in the program are working more predictable hours, allowing them to spend more time together as a family. For example, a single parent working the second shift that included weekends now works an 8:00am-5:00pm job. She’s now able to spend evenings with her children. In another instance, a single mother working as a waitress made just over $900 a month with no employee benefits. Now, she earns almost $2,700 a month with full benefits, pension, and potential bonuses.
Additional clients are currently participating in the program to find better career opportunities. On average, those 14 families saw an annual salary increase of $6,900. In addition, their higher income reduced reliance on SNAP funds. In fact, six families no longer receive SNAP dollars at all.
With these results, we’re expanding this service to more communities. The program started this month in Hastings, and will begin in Columbus this September. We are planning to launch the program in Norfolk in May 2018. Online service will be tested in Hastings to determine how it can help our citizens around the state.
This program builds upon our success connecting Nebraska’s workforce with solid job opportunities through DOL’s first-in-the-nation reemployment program. Through one-on-one coaching, skills assessments, and leveraging of the state’s online job bank, Nebraska’s job seekers are getting back into the workforce more quickly.
According to U.S. Department of Labor reports, the average duration of a Nebraska unemployment claim fell 4 percent in 2016 while the national average remained unchanged. Overall, as a result of innovations like the reemployment plan, Nebraska paid $14.9 million less in unemployment benefits in 2016 than 2015, allowing us to reduce the unemployment insurance tax 25 percent in 2017. This is projected to save Nebraska businesses $17.6 million this year.
While the program is required for those receiving unemployment insurance benefits, anyone needing to accelerate their return to the workforce or find a better opportunity is encouraged to participate. In the month of June alone, employers advertised 55,277 job openings on NEworks. The website’s virtual recruiter searches for jobs matching skill sets and interests of jobs seekers with resumes posted online. A full listing of DOL office locations, as well as a video featuring testimonials from the program, are online at dol.nebraska.gov.
Innovative programs like these make a real difference in the lives of hard-working Nebraskans who are getting connected to great opportunities that are helping build better financial stability for their families. If you have ideas on how we can continue to grow our state and connect even more Nebraskans to better careers, I hope you’ll email my office at email@example.com or call 402-471-2244. We value your input!