As I travel across Nebraska, one thing I hear consistently from businesses is their need to find skilled workers. Whether to replace retiring teammates or expand their business, Nebraska companies are looking for talent to help their operations grow and thrive. In a statewide survey of businesses, more than 71 percent stated it was difficult to find skilled workers.

To meet this need, my team has partnered with the US Department of Labor (USDOL), businesses, and educators to establish Registered Apprenticeship (RA) programs in a wide range of industries. Registered Apprenticeships are recognized by the USDOL and involve a mix of on-the-job training and educational instruction. RA programs result in a certification accepted throughout the United States.

In July, the Nebraska Department of Labor (NDOL) received a grant from the USDOL to expand Registered Apprenticeships across the state. Since January 2016, Nebraska has increased its number of RA programs by 44%, and several more are in development. In total, there are approximately 4,700 Registered Apprentices currently participating. Of these, 3,770 enrolled during the federal fiscal year of 2019.

National Apprenticeship Week is celebrated annually in November to promote the value of this “earn while you learn” model of workforce development. Last week, Lieutenant Governor Foley attended a signing ceremony to mark the launch of a new RA program. Duncan Aviation in Lincoln started the first airframe technician Registered Apprenticeship program in the state. “We now have a true pathway to help new team members become knowledgeable, well-rounded aircraft technicians,” said Jeremy Rangel, Duncan Aviation Airframe Manager. “The work-based learning strategy helps Duncan Aviation increase team member skills and engagement while developing the company’s future leaders.”

To give the next generation of Nebraskans exposure to great-paying professions, we’re introducing students to IT and manufacturing careers at ages 12-13. Gaining familiarity with these opportunities at an early age greatly increases the likelihood that students will pursue them. In 2015, we started the Developing Youth Talent Initiative (DYTI) to bring together local businesses and public schools to introduce middle school students to in-demand occupations. Through DYTI, students can explore these jobs through hands-on learning activities.

Students who develop an interest in IT or manufacturing can then take part in a high school career academy to gain industry-specific skills. From Sandy Creek to Scottsbluff, schools are creating these academies to enhance students’ workplace readiness and to give them the opportunity to earn college credits prior to graduation. In many communities, schools and businesses have partnered to offer Youth Registered Apprenticeships so that high school students can supplement classroom study with work-based learning.

College students seeking a 2-year or 4-year degree can register for an RA program to gain a working knowledge in their chosen vocation while simultaneously earning college credits. Alternatively, youth can go directly into an RA program after high school. All RA programs include a classroom learning component, and many employers will pay the way for apprentices who later wish to attain a degree. This arrangement allows them to make money right out of high school and limits their college student debt. With these programs, we’re building a pipeline of talent—starting in middle school and extending through college—to fill the many jobs that companies like Facebook, Google, Cargill, and Costco are bringing to Nebraska.

Last week, I led a trade mission to Germany to promote Nebraska as a place for companies to invest. The German American Chamber of Commerce in the Midwest and German businesses in Nebraska are developing new apprenticeships in our state to create an educational pathway to great-paying jobs. Earlier this year, CLAAS and Graepel, two German companies with North American headquarters in Omaha, launched Nebraska’s first German-style apprenticeships with the Industry Consortium for Advanced Technical Training (ICATT). The program trains to German standards of excellence and cooperates with Metropolitan Community College, allowing graduates of ICATT to receive an associate’s degree upon completion. ICATT graduates are exactly the sort of highly skilled workers that international manufacturers are looking for when they set up operations in Nebraska.

Private businesses are not the only organizations creating apprenticeship opportunities. Our team at the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is developing a pre-apprenticeship program. DHHS has partnered with Associated Builder and Contractors to create a USDOL Quality Pre-Apprenticeship program for welders and electricians. It will be offered at the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers. Pre-apprentices completing this program will begin earning industry-recognized credentials. They will have the opportunity to participate in an Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) Registered Apprenticeship program when they turn 18.

These are just some of the examples of Registered Apprenticeship programs creating opportunities for Nebraska workers and filling business needs. If you are interested in becoming an apprentice, contact your local Nebraska Department of Labor office. Companies interested in starting a Registered Apprenticeship program should contact Elliott Cain (elliot.cain@nebraska.gov) or Scott Asmus (scott.asmus@nebraska.gov). More information is available on NDOL’s YouTube channel and at http://dol.nebraska.gov. If you’d like to tell me about your experience as an apprentice, I hope you will contact me at pete.ricketts@nebraska.gov or by calling 402-471-2244.

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