As companies scramble to find enough people in a competitive job market, the Lincoln Partnership for Economic Development (LPED) is also working hard to connect potential employees with employers.
The Talent Forum brings together human resource professionals and recruiters to discuss the various challenges Lincoln has with hiring employees.
“A program that came out of that group was MyTern, which helps create a sense of place for interns as they’re coming into their careers,” said Director of Talent Strategy Kaylie Hogan-Schnittker.
“We involve every intern in Lincoln who wants to participate. We give them opportunities for professional development, connecting them with other businesses in town and with their peers so they have a community as they start thinking about where to take their first jobs.”
Since MyTern was founded in 2017, it has grown to serve 15 companies and over 300 interns during the summer of 2021.
The Expanding Talent Pools forum is an opportunity for employers to hear about different talent pools that have been historically underutilized or underserved in the workforce.
These include formerly incarcerated individuals, veterans, immigrants, and refugees.
LPED also has relationships with universities and colleges throughout the city, having conversations with recruiters to identify needs — for instance, how to relocate people well in Lincoln and how to make them feel connected, and what challenges they face as we enter this new area of remote work.
Nebraska Tech Collaborative
The Nebraska Tech Collaborative is specifically focused on the tech workforce for the state. Hogan-Schnittker is one of the co-chairs of the Lincoln science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) ecosystem, working to bridge the gap between education and industry and to introduce students to opportunities they may not know exist in this area.
“We are also building connections between employers and possible employees, between refugees and programs that will help them develop their skills, and between the Lincoln Public Schools (LPS) and the businesses,” said Allison Hatch, director of workforce development for LPED.
“Specifically, one of the things we do with LPS is called JELO (jobs and extended learning opportunities). Employers host opportunities for LPS students to have internships, part time jobs, or to shadow employees, building that pipeline and giving students hands-on experience which prepares them for potential careers.”
EmployLNK is a collaboration between LPED and workforce development agencies that operates as a single point of contact for business to interact with workforce development opportunities.
“This collaboration brings us together so we have one voice in doing that,” Hatch said. “Employers come to meetings and present their opportunities and job cultures, and [the information] goes out to hundreds of potential job seekers.”
Lincoln Manufacturing Council
The Lincoln Manufacturing Council (LMC), which was formed in 2019 to advocate for manufacturing in Lincoln, includes 24 companies and industry partners. LMC created the Manufacturing Certificate course, providing free training to accepted individuals without previous experience in the industry to enter into full-time, entry level positions. The training includes basic manufacturing principles — measurement, production, blueprint reading and work order interpretation — as well as soft skills and problem solving. Upon completion, students participate in a career fair and job shadow opportunity. Certificate holders typically receive preference in the hiring process of LMC member companies.
CareerLadder offers professional tools for immigrants and refugees — designed to be shared statewide — including career pathways guides for in-demand professional fields and digital skills training for job readiness with a special focus on engineering, law, accounting, nursing and education.
“One of the things that makes Lincoln unique is helping immigrants and refugees with high skills connect back into the workforce,” Hatch said. “They have certifications or education from their home countries that they’re trying to use here in the U.S., so we try to connect them with opportunities.”
Youth Employment Program
Recently, the Mayor’s office started the Youth Employment Program (YEP!) — through the Workforce Investment Opportunity Act — which helps young people find paid summer internships and leadership opportunities.
“A lot of focus is on including youth who have significant barriers to employment, making sure we’re connecting them with high-quality jobs and careers while also helping employers hire and retain these skilled workers,” Hatch said.
Finding enough skilled workers in the Lincoln market is tough right now. Employers face new challenges in how to market their positions and which benefits to offer. Many employers are offering hiring incentives and bonuses.
“One employer I heard about is offering a bonus for just showing up for the interview,” Hogan-Schnittker said.
Because of the tight labor market, employers are being more creative, rethinking not only the hiring process but also the onboarding process — how to be engaged with the employees after they have accepted a job and shown up for the first day of work.
“It’s becoming really critical for the employer to think through each step along the way (from hiring to transitioning the employee),” Hogan-Schnittker said. “Retention is getting tougher as well with opportunities to change employment and potentially seek out higher wages. Employers are reevaluating their packages for existing employees.”
“I think there are some individuals who are not employed — [and] not considered unemployed — who might be attracted back into the workforce with the right position at the right salary and benefits,” Hatch said. “[These include] people who retired early because of the pandemic and parents who have decided to stay home. Child care has been a big issue across the U.S., so one parent may stay home with the child while the other works. They’re not considered unemployed because they’re not seeking work, but they could be attracted back into the workforce.”
COVID-19 has made many people rethink their direction in life. Entrepreneurship is on the rise, with lots of people leaving their traditional 9-to-5 jobs to start their own businesses.
The underemployed are a largely untapped source of potential candidates for employers. People who are underemployed may work two part time jobs, so they are not considered in the unemployment rate.
“While there are challenges facing the workforce, LPED and partnering organizations are working together to address the needs of community and talent pipeline,” Hatch said.
Kawasaki, which has many plants around the world, has three in the U.S.—Lincoln, Maryville, Missouri, and the newly-opened plant in Boonville, Missouri, according to Bryan Seck, chief talent management strategist. The firm also has offices in Michigan where it does some robotics and in California where it does some marketing.
The Lincoln plant has been in operation for 47 years. The firm manufactures all-terrain vehicles, jet skis, cargo doors for Boeing 777s, engines for the commercial lawn mower market, and various types of rail cars.
Kawasaki has about 2,500 employees in Lincoln and plans to add about 550 more over the next 18 months.
“We’re not only growing organically as we need people, but like many other firms we’re seeing a lot of retirements, so we’ll be trying to replace these very skilled, experienced people,” Seck said.
The firm’s expansion will include putting in a new paint facility and new assembly lines.
“The reason for the big expansion in Lincoln and opening the Boonville plant is that we’ve experienced unprecedented sales and demand for all of our products,” Seck said. “In the Lincoln area we’re at an all-time low of 1.1% unemployment. That’s never happened before.
“There are 16,000 open positions in Lincoln this month (January) and about 2,000 people who receive unemployment. We interview and assess people here three days a week, and we hire on the spot. Very rarely do we have someone who is unemployed walk in the door.
It’s always people who want to change jobs or are managing multiple part time jobs. When they come to us, they want a full-time job with benefits that’s very predictable — they can count on having 40 hours every week.”
In September 2021, the firm started hiring directly for its entry level team member positions, whereas everyone in the past would go through ASI, the company’s contract agency.
“The market is so competitive we wanted to hire directly in addition to ASI,” Seck said. “When someone applies, we see that they have some relevant work experience that can be translated to us.
“It doesn’t have to be manufacturing. For instance, fast food is assembly and construction. If that person applies we give them an assessment and if they pass the interview and skills test, they can walk out of here with a job offer in about four hours and start within 48 hours.”
The firm has also started a part time shift, from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., aimed at parents who drop their children off at school, go to work, then pick their children up from school at the end of their shift.
In addition to team member positions, Kawasaki is hiring for welding, engineering and office positions.
“I think we have about 10 engineering openings right now, which is a lot for us,” Seck said.
Bison, Inc., manufactures primarily metal products and netting systems for team sports, such as goals for basketball, volleyball and football. It also manufactures affiliated products like golf carts and wall padding for gymnasiums and baseball fields.
The only manufacturing facility is in Lincoln, although the firm has small sales offices in Grand Rapids, Michigan., and Inland, Kansas, according to CEO Nick Cusick.
The firm’s business was significantly impacted in early 2020 when the pandemic hit, shutting down schools and most sports at all levels, but growth soared in the first quarter of 2021, ending the year with sales up dramatically over 2019, which had been the firm’s peak year.
“We continued to add employees during that time (early in the pandemic) when there was uncertainty about where the market would go from there,” Cusick said. “Then there was federal stimulus money coming to schools, and it was a little hard to guess how that would influence the market.”
The firm, which has been on a growth pattern for several years, is in the process of planning a new site because it has outgrown its downtown Lincoln facility where it has been located since the 1970s. Bison currently has a 40,000-square-foot building on the new site and is designing a 50,000-square-foot addition to that.
The firm, which has just under 100 employees at the Lincoln plant, will be adding employees over the next two years although competition is fierce.
“In the summer of 2021 we had about 20 openings,” Cusick said. “We’re offering employees financial and other inducements to work more hours in the plant and in the office.”
The firm works hard to retain its employees through bonuses, flexibility of schedules and time off, and special luncheons to celebrate certain milestones such as sales and profits.
Most interesting facts and statistics about the workforce:
Six interesting statistics about Lincoln’s workforce, according to Hatch and Hogan-Schnittker.
1. Lincoln has a historically low unemployment rate with seven job openings for every unemployed individual.
2. In 2021, Lincoln was listed as one of the best cities for young professionals.
3. According to NEworks labor market information for Nebraska, 7.6% of jobs in Lancaster County — of which Lincoln is the dominant city — are in manufacturing.
4. According to NEworks, Lancaster County has 13.4% of the manufacturing workplaces in the state, which boils down to 296 manufacturing job sites.
5. Projections from the census bureau show that the prime workforce age will continue to decrease until 2028, which means that there will be fewer people in the prime workforce age of 25 to 64. This trend existed prior to the pandemic, but it is being felt even more acutely now with the pandemic and workforce shortages.
6. Lincoln has a strong startup ecosystem, which is important for launching new ideas and creating new generally high-skill and high-paying jobs.