- Associated Press - Saturday, April 6, 2019

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska employers are struggling to find qualified workers to fill tens of thousands of open positions, and business leaders are calling for action to attract, train and retain local graduates and out-of-state prospects.

The Nebraska Labor Department says there are more than 36,000 open jobs in the state, the Omaha World-Herald reported . The state has just a 2.8% unemployment rate.

“We have a workforce crisis in this state,” said University of Nebraska President Hank Bounds.

Hudl, a Nebraska-based software company that creates technology for football teams, has grown from three employees to 1,400 in just 13 years, said Brian Kaiser, one of the company’s founders. But the organization has filled about a dozen high-paying tech positions with people living elsewhere because of the lack of homegrown talent.

“It’s turning into more and more of a problem for us,” Kaiser said. “We have some skills sets that are very hard to hire in the state of Nebraska.”

The worker shortage could cause some firms to leave the state if the issues persist, said Tonn Ostergard, CEO of Crete Carrier, a trucking company.

“You don’t want to sound like Chicken Little,” he said. “But we also have to be objective and say we have issues staring us in the face.”

The state’s biggest challenge in the coming decade will likely be retaining, attracting and training the people needed to fill jobs, said Bryan Slone, the president of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“This is now the most pressing economic issue in the state,” Slone said. “It doesn’t get a lot of attention, but we are on the cusp of this becoming the 1,000-pound gorilla.”

Business leaders say the state could do more to retain high school graduates, increase training of underemployed workers and step up efforts to lure workers from other states. And investment in scholarships at the state’s colleges and universities, community colleges and nontraditional training programs is key.

Kandace Miller of Omaha’s AIM Institute said the nonprofit has identified 100 students who want to enroll in code school, which focusses on computer programming and website design, but can’t afford to do so.

Gov. Pete Ricketts in January proposed spending nearly $7 million over two years on additional college scholarship aid. The plan would give about 1,000 Nebraska students up to $4,000 in annual scholarships.

Bounds is pushing for more funding and has backed another legislative proposal that would allocate $30 million annually to scholarships.

“I think the workforce issue is that big,” Bounds said.

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Information from: Omaha World-Herald, http://www.omaha.com

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