Nebraska is the best place in the world because of our people. Over the years, smart, hardworking, loyal Nebraskans have transformed the prairie where buffalo roamed to a growing state that leads the world in ag biotechnology, medicine, and manufacturing. Our people are second to none. I know from experience that when you hire a Nebraskan, you are getting someone with a great work ethic and strong character. While character is the foundation of our strong workforce, it is also important that we take the long view on developing skills to connect the next generation of Nebraskans to good-paying careers. By equipping the next generation with the tools they need to find a great opportunity and career here in the Good Life, we can ensure that our state remains the best place in the world to live, work, and raise a family.

As I travel the state, I hear from many job creators and business owners about skills gaps. The biggest gaps most communities are working to address are in the areas of manufacturing and information technology. Manufacturing is our state’s second biggest industry, and many firms have faced challenges hiring welders and electricians. Nebraska is also home to the Silicon Prairie, the startup community in the Midwest which has a big need for coders and designers. While many view a four-year degree as the path to a career, communities across Nebraska are working to put a focus on vocational education opportunities as another path to good-paying job opportunities. For example, Lincoln and Grand Island have established independent programs that are successfully graduating students to help fill these skills gaps and connect young Nebraskans to great careers.

I worked with the Legislature to launch the Developing Youth Talent Initiative (DYTI) in 2015 to inspire support for additional public-private partnerships to address the skills gap. DYTI is a program that connects young Nebraskans to careers in the manufacturing and technology sectors. This program helps to foster partnerships between private industries and public schools that promote engagement in hands-on career exploration and relevant workplace learning for 7th and 8th grade students. By focusing on middle school students, these schools are exposing students to these opportunities early on, and giving them the option to continue to pursue their interest into high school and beyond.

Over the past two years, we have already seen success stories in the programs supported by DYTI. Hastings High School increased enrollment 16 percent in Skills and Technical Sciences classes for incoming freshman who participated in a full year of DYTI programs in 8th grade. DYTI metrics from previous grant recipients, such as Flowserve in Hastings, have indicated a significant increase in student interest and participation in IT and manufacturing. Distefano Technology & Manufacturing in Omaha saw an increase in students who indicated an interest in manufacturing careers. 53.8 percent of students indicated interest prior to exposure to the mobile manufacturing trailer compared to 100 percent of students after experiencing the trailer. We are continuing to track the success of these grants, and the continued interest of students as they move into high school and towards their career path.

This year, three companies received grants:

• Becton Dickinson of Broken Bow – manufacturer of medical supplies

• Cyclonaire Corporation of York – manufacturer of pneumatic conveying systems, components, and accessories

• Aulick Industries of Scottsbluff – manufacturer of transportation equipment for agricultural, landscaping, and construction products

DYTI is helping young Nebraska students prepare for high-skill, high-wage jobs while also helping our job creators fill skills gaps and grow Nebraska. This is just a part of the story. My team continues to identify strategies to help connect young Nebraskans to good careers. As we work to grow and develop our state’s workforce, I would like to hear from you. If you have ideas to share, please consider contacting my office by emailing pete.ricketts@nebraska.gov or by calling 402-471-2244. We value your input!

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