• Thu. Dec 7th, 2023

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Nebraska looks to expand workforce development program statewide after successful pilot

Nebraska officials are looking to expand an Omaha-based workforce development program statewide after four students successfully completed the pilot program earlier this year. 

Gov. Pete Ricketts celebrated the program, Ignite Nebraska, alongside state and program officials at a news conference Monday morning. Officials stressed the importance of the program in helping working Nebraskans achieve financial stability and addressing the staffing shortages challenging most industries across the state. 

“We have to recruit here, in our own backyard,” said State Department of Economic Development Director Tony Goins.

Ignite Nebraska launched in February as a six- to nine-month program focused on recruiting students who were already in the workforce, but weren’t getting paid enough to achieve financial stability. Ricketts said the four students who completed the pilot program in October saw their average salary raise by 136%.

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Ignite Nebraska founder Joni Wheeler said once a student completes the program, they are guaranteed a full-time position with one of their partnering companies. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska — of which Wheeler is also the executive vice president of talent and enterprise solutions — was the first private partner to the program, and Wheeler said all four graduates are still working for the company.

One of those graduates is Laura Croswell, who credited Ignite Nebraska as the reason she was able to get off of state benefits. A single mom of two, Croswell described herself as a “one-woman army,” and said she is now able to plan ahead on a month-to-month basis rather than live day-by-day or minute-by-minute. 

“(Ignite Nebraska) opens up so many doors for so many people,” Croswell said. 

The pilot focused on training workers in IT, but Wheeler said officials are looking to expand the program to other fields. Though the program is designed to encompass just about any field, she said she expects it will continue a large focus on the technology industry, as many companies report a high demand for workers in that area.

There are four more students partway through the next phase of the program, Wheeler said, with another seven to 10 expected to enroll in the next class that starts in March. Though she said she aims to grow the program slowly, she hopes enrollment after the March class remains in the double digits. 

The original program was based in the Omaha area, but based on the success of the pilot,  Goins said officials hope to expand the program statewide over the next year or two. He called for all Nebraska businesses to consider partnering with the program, as he said all business owners he’s interacted with have expressed a need for skilled workers. 

“Companies can’t afford not to do this,” Ricketts said. 


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