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State must address workforce issues

January 11, 2018 GMT

As the Unicameral gets back to work in Lincoln, our chamber continues to ask state leaders for “less talk, more action” on workforce issues.

Our partners at the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce this week published a summary of what some other states are doing. Here are a few highlights of what’s being done elsewhere to address the skills gap:

• Indiana: Lawmakers recently passed a “Workforce Ready” grant program that aims to fill the gap between a student’s financial aid and tuition bill for those students taking certain “high-value” certificate programs.

• Alabama and Alaska: Both states recently announced a “65 by 2025” initiative, which aims to have 65 percent of residents who are 25 and older obtain a postsecondary degree or certificate by 2025.

• Tennessee: Tennessee’s “Drive to 55” campaign seeks 55 percent degree or certificate attainment by 2025, in part through a program of installing additional college counselors in 30 public high schools across the state.

• Nationwide: The federal response has included “Investing in Innovation” grants to gear up STEM education, improve career pathways and strengthen the pipeline of students to jobs. Another federal program is ApprenticeshipUSA, which features a network of 150,000 employers offering apprenticeships across a thousand different occupations.

Also, CNBC reported that most counties in Kansas are now offering to pay off up to 20 percent of the student debt of new residents who hold college degrees. To qualify, applicants must have an employer or county “sponsor” that agrees to match half of the repayment. So far, 58 employers are participating. The state has received 3,400 applications, CNBC reports, with one-third coming from out of state.

As 10,000 people retire from the workforce every day in this country, the competition just gets stiffer for available people with talent and work ethic. Nebraska is, we fear, falling behind in the competition for people who can go anywhere with their skill sets. We’ve talked about it for too long without taking substantive action to tell the “Nebraska story” and bring people here.

As you know, Columbus has been active in this arena for several years, but we recognize we don’t have “state-level” resources that will be necessary to move things at a different level. It’s our belief that the time has come for our state to get serious about selling Nebraska to prospective residents.

The Chamber Legislative Committee is the arm of our organization that watches such things, monitoring and taking action on bills that can change the business climate in Nebraska. They’ll hold their first conference call with the state chamber on Jan. 25 and basically every two weeks after that for the rest of the session. They invite you to join them to engage in this work.

The Legislative Committee will also be connecting with local elected officials this month. Their annual thank-you receptions with city council and county board members are informal opportunities to say thanks to these individuals for their public service. Call the chamber office if you’d like details on these events.

Connecting with issue advocacy is certainly one of the important benefits our organization provides to our region. As workforce challenges continue to grow, we will stay engaged with encouraging leaders to meet those challenges.