World-Herald editorial

Published: Aug 6, 2017

Nebraskans involved in workforce development are voicing optimism about outreach efforts to the state’s young people. Consider these observations from two people heavily involved in the issue.

“We’ve seen some tremendous conversations and really solid plans as a result of this,” Rich Katt, state director of career education with the Nebraska Department of Education, told The World-Herald, referring to collaborations between a growing number of Nebraska public schools and the business community.

“Business and education are partnering well” in Nebraska, said Tony “T.R.” Raimondo Sr., chairman of Columbus-based Behlen Manufacturing Co. and a longtime leader in Nebraska workforce development. “It’s really happening.”

These cooperative, career-focused endeavors by Nebraska schools are part of an effort called reVISION, through which the state Department of Education works with school systems to analyze course offerings and academic advising, adjusting them to better prepare students for careers and higher education.

The reVISION process helps school districts “do a deep dive into the data about local labor market information and economic priorities for the region,” Katt said.

A key component is holding community engagement sessions in which educators and local residents “create a shared vision about what knowledge and skills students need to leave with,” Katt said.

Among the standouts, he said, is Kearney High School, which has built close connections to the community and helped students understand their options in a range of fields. “They’re doing exceptional work,” he said.

Jay Dostal, principal at Kearney High School, said about 180 adults have served on advisory teams for the initiative, by which the school transformed its curriculum, academic counseling and community connections to help students understand career opportunities and build on their interests and aptitudes.

The comprehensive approach helps students learn about options in a range of career categories, including business; agriculture and natural resources; health sciences; and technical sciences.

“Our community is really rallying around it,” Dostal said. The community’s strong passage of a bond issue in 2013 to build a new Kearney High “set the stage to look at the educational environment in a different way and set things up” for the new approach, he said.

The Kearney school system held seven community engagement sessions, which proved vital in laying the groundwork for the effort, the principal said.

Katt notes that by the conclusion of the upcoming school year, nearly 100 Nebraska school districts will have completed a reVISION process, involving about 70 percent of the state’s public school students.

“The outcomes have been very significant,” Katt said. “We’ve seen complete program changes, especially lots of emphasis on skilled trades, agrisciences, bioscience and information technology.” There has been particular interest in health sciences, he said.

In addition to reVISION, Nebraska is pursuing a variety of workforce development efforts, including software coding schools, visits to manufacturing plants and competitive state grants to Nebraska companies that work with school districts to provide students with hands-on experience in advanced manufacturing or information technology.

Raimondo, a leader with the Nebraska Advanced Manufacturing Coalition, points to successes with the Career Dream Team Ambassador program, in which young Nebraska adults starting out in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) do outreach to Nebraska students.

STEM outreach to girls will take a major step forward in September when Metropolitan Community College hosts Nebraska’s inaugural Step Forward event.

The event will honor 60 women in STEM fields in Nebraska and western Iowa, underscoring the career opportunities. It’s fitting that the Step Forward event will coincide with the dedication of Metro’s ambitious new Center for Advanced and Emerging Technology, offering cutting-edge skills training.

Nebraska and Iowa face a shortage of skilled workers, but these are the kinds of proactive efforts needed to move ahead. Everyone involved in these efforts deserves a salute for building a stronger future.

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