COLUMNS

Investing in Our Greatest Resource

Gov. Pete Ricketts

Over the past year, Nebraska’s economy has been booming, creating more and more great opportunities here in the Good Life.  We currently have the lowest unemployment rate in the nation at 2.3 percent.  That equals our state’s lowest rate ever and is less than half of the national unemployment rate of 5.4 percent. 

According to Local Area Unemployment Statistics from the Nebraska Department of Labor, 92 of our 93 counties have an unemployment rate at or below 2.7 percent. 

Statewide, our manufacturing employment is above pre-pandemic levels and has reached its highest point since the Great Recession (October 2008). 

Job opportunities abound.  The State’s job site (NEworks.nebraska.gov) listed more than 49,000 open positions on Aug. 29.  WalletHub recently ranked Nebraska as the #2 state in the U.S. to find a job, and it named Lincoln and Omaha as the top two cities in the nation bouncing back the strongest from coronavirus. 

While this strong growth has led to plenty of opportunities, it also presents a challenge for businesses that are looking to grow.  Companies are having difficulty hiring people to fill all of the jobs they’re creating. 

To address this, we’re taking steps to help Nebraskans get the skills and education needed to take the great-paying jobs being created in our state.  We’re approaching this in a strategic way by building a talent pipeline to help prepare students for high-wage, high-demand careers here in Nebraska. 

Our pipeline starts in middle school with the Developing Youth Talent Initiative (DYTI), which familiarizes kids with jobs in fields like engineering or manufacturing.  This summer, we awarded our latest round of DYTI grants to Behlen Manufacturing Company in Columbus and Great Plains Health in North Platte. 

After participating in DYTI, students can take part in a career academy at the high school level.  These academies provide hands-on learning experiences, job shadowing, and mentoring to further prepare students for professional life.  

High school graduates can then apply for Nebraska Career Scholarships.  These scholarships help offset tuition for college students in fields of study, such as engineering and IT, where there’s a big need for skilled professionals.  

Earlier this year, I worked with the Legislature to expand the Career Scholarship program to private colleges and universities.  This brings the total number of career scholarships to at least 2,110 by 2023. 

In addition to these programs, we’re partnering with local companies to offer a variety of apprenticeships to students—both in high school and college.  Since January 2020, the number of Registered Apprenticeships has grown by 14 percent with 1,511 new apprentices enrolled.  These apprenticeships give students the opportunity to gain on-the-job skills, while simultaneously earning income and coursework credits. 

Earlier this month, I joined CLAAS for the grand opening of their innovative new training academy, which offers German-style apprenticeships in west Omaha.  It’s part of the Industry Consortium for Advanced Technical Training (ICATT) program created by the German American Chamber of Commerce of the Midwest. 

Based on the German dual-education philosophy, ICATT apprentices gain valuable workplace knowledge while studying for industry certifications and an associate degree in their chosen field.

Some companies are blending a variety of strategies to recruit the next generation of Nebraskans to work for them.  Reinke Manufacturing in Deshler is a great example of a Nebraska business that has proactively invested locally to build its workforce.  A two-time DYTI award recipient, Reinke has used the grants to educate students on coding and robotics. 

Before working with DYTI, Reinke launched a welding program at Deshler High School and donated the equipment used to train students over a decade ago. 

The manufacturer has also funded scholarships at the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture (NTCA) and contributed a GPS-equipped center pivot for use in NTCA’s field laboratory. 

This long-term engagement with area schools is exactly what’s needed for companies to meet their demand for talent.  

As we work to recruit and retain the talent businesses need to grow, we are also pursuing strategies beyond the classroom. 

Military service members have valuable skills they learned while on active duty, and they add immense value to our businesses and nonprofits as they pursue a new career in civilian life. 

In recent years, we’ve taken a number of steps to make Nebraska a more attractive home for them and for their families. 

This year, I successfully worked with the Legislature to pass LB 387, which provides a 100 percent tax exemption on military retirement benefits.  In April, we announced the Veterans’ SkillBridge.  

Overseen by the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, the program creates connections between Nebraska employers and military members during their final 180 days of service, giving participants a chance to explore the best fit for their specific talents and interests after transitioning out of military service. 

This spring, we also launched the Military Spouse Transition Program to help military spouses moving to Nebraska identify job opportunities in state government.  

Additionally, I signed legislation this year to make it quicker and easier for military spouses licensed in another state to obtain a teaching permit after moving to Nebraska.  These are just a few of the steps we have taken.

To keep our growth going, we will find innovative ways to develop our people so they can take some of the thousands of great-paying jobs right here in Nebraska. 

If you have questions about the State’s workforce initiatives, or any other matter, please email pete.ricketts@nebraska.gov or call 402-471-2244. 

The Good Life is powered by the hard work of our people, and we’ll continue to provide the tools and training Nebraskans need to achieve their dreams.