Nebraska's economy has a lot going for it. But one of its challenges is strengthening the quality of its work force for highly skilled industry.
Nebraska universities and other institutions of higher learning are producing a significant number of young people with impressive skills in the sciences and business, yet too many of those graduates leave the state to pursue opportunities.
Nebraska business and education leaders readily acknowledge what academic studies have frequently recommended: While these young people are still in school, Nebraska needs to do a better job of connecting them to private companies looking for skilled workers.
The importance of this need was highlighted by a detailed report on Nebraska's economy in 2010 by an Ohio think tank, Battelle Technology Partnership Practice. Battelle described this work force challenge as “the No. 1 issue of Nebraska's existing industry.”
Meeting this need, the report said, is “particularly critical” if Nebraska is “to generate higher-quality jobs in the state.”
One of the tools Nebraska is using to address this problem is a commendable initiative called Intern Nebraska, begun last year. Under the program, the state provides companies between $3,500 to $5,000 in state support for paid internships. The companies need to match those dollars. The higher amount is for businesses operating in areas with high poverty rates, high unemployment or declining populations.
Nebraska lawmakers rightly structured the program so that all parts of the state would benefit. One-third of the $2.3 million in funds (existing job-training dollars are used) have been granted to businesses in rural counties.
Intern Nebraska emphasizes practical education and the practical needs of each business. The internships help fund professional or technical positions that provide students with valuable work experience.
A World-Herald news article in 2011 noted the example of Sun Tech Industries in Ravenna, Neb., a custom injection molding business. Through support from Intern Nebraska, the company for the first time was able to hire interns (a finance major and a marketing major) for two positions.
Gov. Dave Heineman noted last week that so far, more than 200 companies have participated and created more than 330 internships. More than 200 of the internships received the state matching funds.
Of the 74 interns who have graduated from an institution of higher learning, more than 50 percent were offered full-time positions with the company where they interned. More than 25 percent began a full-time job with another company.
The website for the program is InternNE.com, with more information, including a downloadable application form, at www.neded.org/internne.
Intern Nebraska provides a sensible, home-grown solution to help address one of the state's crucial economic needs. Getting these young people in the loop about opportunities at home is a win-win all around.