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Nebraska workforce faces challenges of decline, new plans on attracting, retaining young people

Published: Dec. 3, 2021 at 5:26 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Nebraska is on the clock in terms of developing the state’s workforce.

“It’s not a challenge that came at us all of a sudden, we’ve known this for many years.”

Bryan Slone is the President of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Slone addressing the Nebraska Board of Regents said Nebraska’s workforce is on the decline, especially after the pandemic hit.

“Prior to the pandemic, I would have told you that on any given day in Nebraska we had 30,000 to 50,000 jobs that we could not fill because we did not have enough people, it was stopping our growth, it was stopping economic opportunity. It was every city from Omaha to Scottsbluff. If you ask me that question today, that number is now 50,000 to 80,000,” said Slone.

Slone says between now and the year 2030, Nebraska 100,000 to 200,000 young people between the ages of 18 to 34 to move to the state. Nebraska also needs to retain thousands of people who grew up here.

Kamryn Fox is the target age group, she says Omaha is working to attract young people to Nebraska.

“Just like they’re doing here at Aksarben, you’re bringing in local restaurants and keeping the vibe kind of like an all-natural and very community like, how they have some free concerts out here,” said Fox.

The Aksarben area attracts many young people to its shops and restaurants and this group of engineering students say Omaha is working to attract young people to Nebraska.

“There’s a lot of attractions, for instance, coffee shops like this which make it really easy to meet with friends and also the what I consider the booming restaurant scene I find very nice,” said student Tristan Wilkins.

Many in this group believe the state can do more to bring more bright young people to Nebraska.

“Advertising the jobs that are available here like has been mentioned, we have UNMC like for us engineering there’s lots of opportunities there,” said student Makayla Thompson.

“I think when people hear Nebraska they just think flat and corn,” said student Ben Weyeneth.

“Put our name out there more as a place that’s accepting to lots of groups of people. When you talk about politics, I think Nebraska is kind of seen as a one minded place, it’s really not like that, lots of people are welcomed here,” said student Jack Johnson.

Jacob Johnson is from Fairbury, Nebraska, and says he had to leave his small town.

“I couldn’t find a job, I’m an engineering major and couldn’t work there.”

Affordable housing is also an issue for many young adults when it comes to choosing a place to live.

“I just moved out on my own and I can say it is expensive, I don’t know, they need to make it easier somehow for college students who transition into a living space on their own from just leaving college to trying to find a new job just entering into that real world. They need to somehow find a way to make housing more affordable because this over here is like $1,500 just for a month.”

Slone says we need the University of Nebraska System to play a major role in recruiting young talent to the state.

“We need the University of Nebraska to start providing the sort of research necessary to build the technology in our core industries and we need to have the University of Nebraska to sponsor the research to deal with the education and economic attainment gaps to close those gaps to move people up in terms of skills levels and into the job market.”

Slone says these young people can make or break Nebraska’s economic future and it’s up to state leaders to work together to find a way to keep them here.

“This workforce issue is a once in a generational opportunity to change the face of this state and change the trajectory of this state. It’s not Republican, it’s not Democrat, it’s not conservative, it’s not progressive, it’s just an imperative.”

The president of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce says out of the 50 states Nebraska is number 39 in STEM graduates.

State officials have to work together to keep talent in the state and after polling, this group only half plan to stay in Nebraska after graduation.

Slone told the Board of Regents developing the state’s workforce will be our generational challenge.

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