Best Practices
July 1, 2009

Omaha Workforce Funding Collaborative Working to "Up-Skill" Its Region

Greater Omaha Chamber

As America faces increasingly hard economic times, more and more communities across the country are looking for solutions to improve their region's workforce and boost their economies. The Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce has launched an initiative to strengthen workforce development services for low-income residents and economic development efforts in Omaha.

Thanks to a three-year $450,000 grant from the National Fund for Workforce Solutions (NFWS), the newly-formed Omaha Workforce Funding Collaborative is a community-based grant-making partnership for workforce development consisting of business, academic, government and workforce development funders. Led by the chamber, the Collaborative also includes three key partners: Metropolitan Community College; the Tri-County (Omaha) Workforce Investment Board; and the United Way of the Midlands, among others.

The Collaborative has identified and targeted five industries in which to support workforce partnerships: financial services; health care; information technology; transportation, distribution, warehousing and logistics; and advanced manufacturing trades. Each industry serves a broad range of sectors and all are critical to the ability of Omaha and the surrounding region to remaining competitive in a global economy. Each of the five industry sectors to be addressed initially by the collaborative were selected based on anticipated job growth; current job shortages; projected wages (i.e., self-sustaining wages) and potential for worker advancement; basic competencies required for various entry points; correlation of targeted industries to regional economic growth; anticipated interest of employers; and anticipated pool of interested workers.

The Collaborative's initial workforce partnership pilot program addresses Mutual of Omaha's and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska's high demand for workers in the customer service and claims sectors. This pilot project has already resulted in "graduates" and subsequent placement for about 25 workers. As a result of this partnership, the employers have hired job and career coaches who collaborate with human resource departments to support program graduates and assist in supportive services. Thus, the project model has resulted in changing HR practices among employers.

In addition, two new workforce partnership programs are rolling out in the summer of 2009. One partnership, consisting of two ophthalmology practices will be developing ophthalmic assistants, while the other program is a pre-trade/welding program for area manufacturers. In both cases, it is expected that these partnerships will create a mechanism that recruits, supports and retains individuals in these career fields.

"The Omaha Workforce Funding Collaborative has strategically engaged key partners who share the common goal of formulating partnerships to effectively address labor shortages in key industry sectors," said Wendy Boyer, Vice President of Education and Workforce Development at the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce. "Our goal is to provide low-skilled, unemployed residents with a continuum of services to gain self-sufficiency through clear, industry-sector pathways, while meeting local demand for workers in critical career fields."