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Developing Nebraska’s Next Generation of Workplace Leaders

Developing Nebraska’s Next Generation of Workplace Leaders

By Governor Pete Ricketts

November 14, 2022

 

Governor’s official photo here

 

Over the past year, Nebraska set an all-time high for employment.  Our rapid growth is creating thousands of great-paying jobs.  There are currently over 50,000 openings listed on the State’s job site: NEworks.Nebraska.gov.  That’s more than double the number of unemployed Nebraskans who are looking for work.

 

Our state’s historically strong labor market is great news for Nebraskans looking for their next career opportunity.  At the same time, it poses challenges for companies looking to hire great people.  In this labor market, employers must be creative to recruit and retain the talent they need to grow.

 

At the State, we’re partnering with schools, colleges, and businesses to grow our apprenticeship programs in Nebraska.  Apprenticeships strengthen Nebraska’s workforce by connecting students and individuals in career transition with the great career opportunities available across our state. 

 

For example, apprenticeship programs are helping construction companies find the workers they need to take on major projects.  Construction is booming in Nebraska.  Lincoln and Omaha set records for building permit value in 2021.  In Lincoln, the $1.2 billion of building permits in 2021 was $400 million higher than in any previous year.  We’ve grown our construction workforce from under 49,000 in 2014 to nearly 60,000 today.  Yet, the demand for skilled craftsmen has increased just as fast. 

 

Hawkins Construction has joined the State’s registered apprenticeship program to recruit and train construction craft laborers.  Hawkins is helping to grow Nebraska in big ways.  The company tackled some of the most challenging rebuilding projects the State faced after the 2019 floods, such as the Mormon Canal Bridge in Niobrara and the Highway 281 bridge near Spencer.  Currently, Hawkins is constructing the Lincoln South Beltway—a roadway our capital city has dreamed of for years.  To deliver these critical projects on time, Hawkins relies on a team of highly skilled workers.  Apprentices who sign on with Hawkins gain experience on Nebraska’s biggest infrastructure projects, while receiving classroom training from Hawkins teammates who are experts in their field.  At the same time, Hawkins benefits from having apprentices perform meaningful work to move projects forward.

 

Apprenticeships are also helping our healthcare industry address labor shortages.  The Nebraska Departments of Economic Development, Labor, and Health and Human Services are partnering with Bellevue University and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska (BCBSNE) on an innovative IT apprenticeship model called Ignite Nebraska.  It’s designed to introduce Nebraskans in North and South Omaha to careers in software development, computer programming, and database management.  Apprentices earn while they learn ($21/hour), are eligible for BCBSNE employee benefits, and receive free tuition.  They split their time between classroom training at Bellevue and on-the-job learning at BCBSNE.  After completing the 6-12 month program, apprentices can apply for full-time Associate Developer positions at BCBSNE.  The program is a gateway to great-paying IT careers for Nebraskans, and it’s helping Blue Cross find skilled talent to further integrate technology into healthcare.

 

Nebraska’s high schools and colleges play a key role in the State’s apprenticeship programs, partnering with local employers to offer rewarding apprenticeship opportunities.  Student apprentices get paid to learn their trade, earn course credits, and gain nationally recognized credentials.  Stefany Gomez is a great example of a young leader who has developed sought-after skills through apprenticeships.  Stefany took part in Grand Island’s Career Pathways Institute (machining pathway) and also apprenticed at CNH while in high school.  She’s now attending Central Community College in Hastings and apprenticing with Hornady Manufacturing.  In May 2022, she won the Nebraska state championship at the SkillsUSA competition for her proficiency as a CNC milling specialist.  This year, the State invested $60 million of federal funding to help our community colleges add capacity.  Additionally, a coalition of Nebraska community colleges won a $4 million federal grant this summer to increase the availability of apprenticeships.

 

At the State, we’ve designed a customized apprenticeship program to grow our corrections workforce.  In 2020, the Nebraska Legislature approved my recommendation to launch a workforce education partnership between Peru State College and the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services to help more Nebraskans find opportunities in the field of public safety.  The Corrections Leadership Scholarship Program is tailored to students interested in careers in criminal justice, with a focus on corrections leadership.  Student apprentices receive on-the-job training that prepares them to take on key roles at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution.  The initiative has made an important contribution to our success growing the State’s corrections workforce.  It’s exactly the kind of creative approach we need to prepare for our future workforce needs as well as to keep Nebraska’s graduates here for their careers.  It’s also setting an example nationally for how corrections agencies and colleges can collaborate.

 

I have proclaimed November 14-20, 2022, as Apprenticeship Awareness Week in Nebraska to highlight the many ways apprenticeships are helping us build a world-class workforce in Nebraska.  Over the past year, we’ve seen rapid growth in our registered apprenticeship programs.  In federal fiscal year (FFY) 2022, we added more new employers to our apprenticeship program than in FFYs 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021 combined!  There are now more than 4,000 active apprentices in Nebraska.  If your business is interested in launching an apprenticeship program, please contact the Nebraska Department of Labor at ndol.apprenticeship@nebraska.gov.  If you have questions about the State’s ongoing work to connect Nebraskans to great-paying careers, please contact me at pete.ricketts@nebraska.gov or 402-471-2244.