Nebraska aligns to meet tech sector's workforce needs

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Nebraska aligns to meet tech sector's workforce needs
University expertise to play key role in statewide collaboration

Chancellor Ronnie Green has positioned the university to help the Nebraska Tech Collaborative meet the state's growing workforce need in technology-related industries. The project includes a focus on expanding diversity within tech fields.
Chancellor Ronnie Green has positioned the university to help the Nebraska Tech Collaborative meet the state's growing workforce need in technology-related industries. The project includes a focus on expanding diversity within tech fields.

The University of Nebraska–Lincoln has aligned with a statewide initiative designed to meet workforce needs within technology-related fields.

Announced Oct. 14 by the Aksarben Foundation, the Nebraska Tech Collaborative features partners from across public and private sectors — including leaders in business, education, political and philanthropic areas — joining forces to grow and retain talent to support tech-related fields.

“The number of IT jobs in the region has been flat for the past five years, while surrounding area like Kansas City, Denver and Des Moines are growing rapidly,” said Mike Cassling, governor of the Aksarben Foundation Board and chief executive officer of CQuence Health. “Companies can’t fill jobs here, so many of them leave to open offices elsewhere.

“This collaborative is taking action to prevent this.”

Chancellor Ronnie Green, who is serving on the Nebraska Tech Collaborative’s executive committee, said the university is uniquely aligned to support the initiative with 2,900 of its 25,332 current students engaged in fields of study related to technology fields. Green also indicated that recently announced plans to expand College of Engineering facilities and grow enrollment within the college’s programs could benefit the tech workforce initiative.

“A big part of our investment into the College of Engineering is the formation of a new School of Computing, or what is today the Department of Computer Science and Engineering,” Green said. “In creating that school, we plan to — in the next six years of time — at least double student enrollment in computer science, software engineering and computer engineering.”

The expansion of Nebraska Engineering will be completed in two phases.

The first phase, beginning this fall, is a $75 million renovation of the Walter Scott Engineering Center and Nebraska Hall. It includes a 91,000-square-foot addition replacing a 1984 facility known as the Link. The project, which features upgrades to classroom, office and research space, is scheduled for completion in 2022.

The second phase, announces Sept. 16, features an $85 million engineering facility that will serve as engineering’s academic hub and will house Lincoln-based construction management programs. The building will be named Kiewit Hall after a $20 million commitment from the Omaha-based Peter Kiewit Sons’ Inc.

Lance C. Pérez, dean of engineering, expects enrollment in the college to reach about 5,000 students within the decade. That marks a 50 percent increase and would make it the university’s second-largest college in terms of enrollment.

Nebraska Engineering's growth goals are fueled by reports that by 2026, the state will need nearly 15,000 new works in engineering and computer science fields.

Additional university programs that will factor into the initiative include the College of Business, College of Law, College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts and the Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Management.

“There is no doubt that there is a strong need today and in the future for the development of tech talent for the state of Nebraska,” Green said. “We’ve gotten the message and the university is moving forward to help meet this need.”

Nebraska Tech Collaborative leaders have recruited more than 100 businesses and information technology professionals to move the initiative forward. The group is working in six areas of emphasis — talent attraction, diversity and inclusion, prekindergarten to 12th-grade education, higher education, internships, and career change/veterans.

The group has seven primary outcomes:

  • Add 10,000 tech employees by 2023;

  • Retain 90 percent of tech employees in the state by 2023;

  • Grow the number of computer science and information technology graduates in institutions statewide by 2025;

  • Offer advance placement computation courses at all Nebraska high schools by 2025;

  • Teach all elementary school students the basics of coding by 2025;

  • Develop programs to attract minority and women candidates in tech-related fields by 2025; and

  • Start 500 new tech companies by 2023.

Cassling said continued support from public and private sectors is necessary as the burgeoning initiative works to meet Nebraska’s expanding technology workforce needs.

“It’s going to take effort and involvement from everyone for us to be successful,” Cassling said. “And, higher education is a key piece of that. When you look at states that are best in meeting (tech workforce needs), each one has a strong higher education system.”

The collaborative will hold a stakeholders meeting Oct. 18 and a summit on Nov. 1. Project leaders are also asking for ideas from across the state. Learn more about the Aksarben Foundation and the Nebraska Tech Collaborative.