Nebraska facing skilled labor shortage
December 17th, 2013
Lincoln, NE — Every fall theÂ Nebraska State Chamber of CommerceÂ holds special meetings called â€œfall forums.â€ This year, more than 400 businesses from across the state attended the forums.[audio:https://kvnonews.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/WP_Educated_Workers.mp3]
â€œOmaha to Scottsbluff. In size you might see somebody from ConAgra on one end and Curleyâ€™s Machine Shop in Kimball on the other,â€ said Richard Baier, executive vice president of the Nebraska State Chamber.
Baier said as part of the forums, business owners were asked to fill out a survey about what factors could be limiting their potential growth.
Of the 400 who took the survey, Baier said, â€œMore than 25 percent said a lack of available skilled labor was one of the things that is limiting my growth potential.â€
Skilled workers are those whoâ€™ve received specific training to perform a specific job function. Even though Nebraskaâ€™s unemployment rate is low compared to the national average, 3.9 percent compared to 7 percent, Baier said trouble finding qualified workers is affecting numerous industries.
â€œWe see it across the board in all areas. We see primarily manufacturing and IT and healthcare as sort of the three biggies that are driving that process, but we see it in just about every business we talk to,â€ Baier explained.
He went on to say the lack of skilled labor doesnâ€™t just have a negative impact on a businessâ€™ bottom line, it hurts communities as well.
â€œYou start to look at places like Columbus in particular. They have anywhere right now between 500-600 unfilled jobs in Columbus. If you can imagine what 500 really good paying jobs–mostly in the skills and manufacturing area– are paying, it would be a significant impact on the local community,â€ Baier said.
Ernie Goss, an economics professor at Creighton University in Omaha, said the shortage of skilled labor stems from poor education, resulting in students who are unprepared to enter the job market.
â€œItâ€™s not just in terms of specific skills, itâ€™s general skills, what we economists call general skills. In other words, just knowing how to convert a fraction to a percentage, as simple as that is. Weâ€™re not doing a very good job in America of providing that education,â€ Goss said.
According to Goss and other economic experts, if the labor force canâ€™t adapt to the demands of employers, some companies may turn to more automation, eliminating some human positions altogether.
When asked how are workers supposed to adapt, Goss said the answer was easy.
â€œThe best way to obtain a solid income, a life of good position that brings you enjoyment, is to become well educated. Itâ€™s not just staying in school; itâ€™s getting a good education while youâ€™re there,â€ Goss said.
But Goss, a long-time college professor, was quick to add, â€œA university education is not what we all need. The idea that every person needs a university education and a bachelorâ€™s degree is nonsense.â€
This idea, that one size doesnâ€™t fit all students, has prompted some school districts across the country to establish career centers–places where high school students are taught specific skills so theyâ€™ll be better equipped to enter the workforce immediately after graduating.
Lincoln Public SchoolÂ Superintendent Steve JoelÂ has already helped start a career center in Grand Island. Now, heâ€™s trying to bring one to Lincoln.
â€œWeâ€™ve been working on it for about two years now. Weâ€™ve gone out and visited probably a dozen different [career centers],â€ Joel said.
TheÂ LPS Career CenterÂ will accommodate around 1200 students. Joel said after attending their home high schools for a half day to complete core courses, the students attending the career center will then travel to its proposed site on the Southeast Community College campus to finish their studies.
There will be distinct career categories students can choose from, including Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, Health Sciences, as well as Business Marketing and Management.
Joel said each main category will offer several different career paths, allowing for greater diversification within a given industry.
â€œFolks in the community are going to be able to come to us and say, â€˜We just attracted this particular industry and we need these kinds of skills,â€™” Joel explained.Â “And weâ€™re going to be able to work with them and say, â€˜Yeah we can respond to that.’
â€œWeâ€™re going to approach it in a very agile manner, because we want to be able to change as conditions change,â€ Joel said.
Economist Ernie Goss said concepts like the LPS Career Center can also be adapted to help people currently looking for jobs who may find themselves with the wrong skills.
â€œYouâ€™re thinking youâ€™re through [with education] at 24? No, itâ€™s just beginning. At 34, at 44, at 54â€”youâ€™re still going to be coming back and re-educating yourself. Thatâ€™s what businesses need, thatâ€™s what individuals need, thatâ€™s what families need,â€ Goss said.
But what the career center needs is $13.5 million. That money is part of a bond issue going before Lincoln voters in February. If approved, Joel said the LPS Career Center could begin teaching students in fall of 2015.
While it may help Nebraskaâ€™s skilled worker shortage one day, for now, Goss said people looking for work need to do whatever they can to make sure they have the right skills.
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