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 U.S. Department of Labor, businesses and educators to establish Registered Apprenticeship programs in a range of industries. RAs 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 received a grant from the USDOL to expand RAs across the state. Since January 2016, Nebraska has increased its number of RA programs by 44 percent, and several more are in development. In total, there are approximately 4,700 RAs currently participating. Of these, 3,770 enrolled during fiscal 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, Lt. Gov. Mike Foley attended a signing ceremony to mark the launch of a new RA program. Duncan Aviation in Lincoln started the first airframe technician RA 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’s 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 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 then can 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 RAs so that high school students can supplement classroom study with work-based learning.

College students seeking a 2- 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, youths 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.

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.

Private businesses are not the only organizations creating apprenticeship opportunities. Our team at the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services is developing a pre-apprenticeship program. DHHS is creating a program for welders and electricians.

Companies interested in starting an RA program should contact Elliott Cain at elliot.cain@nebraska.gov or Scott Asmus at scott.asmus@nebraska.gov.