Nebraska manufacturers need skilled workers and are finding out they have to change perceptions to successfully recruit them.
Two manufacturers, MetalQuest of Hebron and Distefano Technology and Manufacturing of Omaha, are the latest recipients of state grants to connect youth with careers in manufacturing and technology.
Brian Turner of Distefano says many have misperceptions about manufacturing.
“One of the things that we see so many times is the perception comes either from the other students, the families or, even like you had mentioned, the teachers,” according to Turner.
MetalQuest and Distefano are the 2016 grant recipients for the Nebraska Developing Youth Talent Initiative, a program that seeks to connect manufacturers with Nebraska youth. The Unicameral approved the program proposed by Gov. Pete Ricketts during the 2015 legislative session. Companies use the grants to provide hands-on experiences for 7th and 8th Grade students.
Manufacturing executives are quick to point out modern manufacturing requires skilled workers to operate in a high-tech environment. Gone are the days of the single, overhead lightbulb barely illuminating a dirty workplace.
Other stereotypes need to fall away as well, they say.
Travis Hollman with Hollman Media of Kearney, a past award winner, sees reaching out to students as the key.
“We had females that were in our high schools saying, ‘Can we be engineers? We don’t know any girls or women that are engineers,’” Hollman says. “And so we’re lining up females in our high school with female engineers in Hastings to help advance that.”
MetalQuest works South Central Nebraska Unified School District as part of the Manufacturing Career Pathway Program. Distefano works with an area consortium of manufacturers through the Metro Area Mobile Manufacturing Expo, a traveling mobile lab for Omaha Public Schools middle schools.
The Nebraska Department of Economic Development provides each company up to $125,000 to fund their programs in the 2016-2017 school year.
Manufacturing is Nebraska’s second largest industry, behind only agriculture.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:50]