Workforce Challenges: Shortage of Candidates and Teachers Sparks Innovation

With an unemployment rate of less than 3% in Omaha and Council Bluffs, it’s no surprise that every industry is searching for viable candidates. The problem is two-fold when it comes to trades: recruiting candidates, and finding instructors to train those candidates. 

Ready to Work

Abby Kossow, program director, receives calls daily from various trade companies asking if Project Reset has available candidates. Project Reset, a program of the Nebraska Center for Workforce Development and Education which started in May 2021, helps previously incarcerated individuals re-enter the workforce. 

Project Reset has helped over 305 individuals re-enter the workforce. The program takes a holistic approach by starting with “core foundations,” such as putting together a resume, obtaining a social security card and/or driver’s license, and addressing instability first. 

“Once those immediate needs are met, we work with them on trade exploration … so they can get an idea of what they might be interested in,” Kassow said.

The program has connected candidates to companies specializing in everything from plumbing to electrical to sheet metal. 

“If it’s something they’re interested in, and we haven’t gone down that path yet, we look for resources to help get into that,” she said. 

Partner companies have either an apprenticeship program or internal training. The program is looking for partner companies, and interested parties can contact Kassow at 

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Removing Barriers 

Kassow, who previously worked as a probation officer for Nebraska, said many job opportunities are unavailable to those with a criminal background, both because of their record and finances. 

In Nebraska, several state-based licenses are unavailable to those who have a criminal background. Laura Ebke, senior fellow for job licensing reform at The Platte Institute and former senator, noted that this makes sense in certain circumstances. 

For example, Ebke said a person convicted of child abuse shouldn’t have a license to teach children. But, what if that person wants to train to be an electrician or a cosmetic technician? 

Stipulations were introduced in 2018 to allow previously incarcerated individuals to petition licensing boards to determine if they could, following proper training, attain a license. 

LB263/709, which was introduced to Nebraska Legislature in 2022, would require licensing boards to take things a step further and define what convictions are permanently barred; and expanded LB389 and LB390, two bills signed into place in 2021 to address shortages in teaching and health care fields. 

It also introduced “universal recognition” to Nebraska, essentially allowing professionals from out of state, or from military backgrounds, to receive recognition for their experience and receive a license in Nebraska. 

“From a workforce standpoint, we need to find ways to make it easier for people to come [to Nebraska],” Ebke said.

Due to timing constraints, LB263/709 did not get discussed during the 2022 legislative session. However, Ebke is working with partners to draft a bill that would merge LB263/709 into a single bill to put on the floor next session.

A Path Forward

Metropolitan Community College has been working towards reducing misconceptions and monetary burdens for those seeking to enter the trades, such as the automotive industry. 

“I think the challenge in the past has been, when you’re an automotive technician, you have to bring your own tools to the job. Those tools are real expensive,” said Tom McDonnell, vice president for academic affairs.

Nate Barry, dean of career and technical education, said MCC has been able to offer students access to tools while they train, eliminating that burden. 

However, a new challenge has emerged for MCC and students: a shortage of teachers and mentors. 

“When we say we need teachers, it’s not your traditional teacher that you think of,” Barry said. “It is really a mentor who can share what they’ve learned over the 15-20 years they’ve been working.” 

Stephanie Ling, who is now the program coordinator for MCC’s architectural design technology program, admitted that when she began teaching in 2017 she had “imposter syndrome.” 

“I had reservations about whether my students would see me as someone with enough industry experience to guide them,” Ling said. 

Ling is now in her fifth year of teaching full-time and said that she fully understands the hesitation, but the fulfillment she feels has been “imaginable.” 

Joe Baker, auto collision instructor and program director, had a similar journey with no experience teaching beforehand. He said the onboarding process helped him feel more confident in teaching a class. 

“The most satisfying part of teaching as an adjunct is the ability to see our younger generation grow and become successful,” Baker said. 

Ling and Baker encouraged industry professionals to give teaching, either as an adjunct at MCC or at their own company, a try. 

“The industry has been there to support you and your family and it can do the same for the younger generation,” Baker said.