Gov. Pete Ricketts

Gov. Pete Ricketts

LINCOLN — Distefano Technology and Manufacturing of Omaha and MetalQuest of Hebron have won state grants for programs aimed at opening the world of manufacturing and technology to Nebraska students.

Gov. Pete Ricketts congratulated the two companies Monday for receiving the Nebraska Developing Youth Talent Initiative’s 2016 grants. Each will get up to $125,000.

Ricketts proposed the initiative last year to foster collaborations between private industry and public schools on programs that expose middle school students to careers and opportunities in manufacturing and IT.

“Public-private partnerships like these are setting the bar when it comes to working with their communities and schools to connect youth with career paths with good-paying jobs,” Ricketts said.

“These efforts are helping build the 21st century workforce Nebraska’s industries and companies need to remain competitive in a global economy,” he said.

Distefano is part of an area consortium of manufacturers working with the Omaha Public Schools and OPS Career Center on creating a metro-area mobile manufacturing expo.

The expo will offer hands-on learning experiences for middle school students in areas such as 3-D design and printing, robotics, welding and related careers.

MetalQuest is working with the South Central Unified School District to offer exploratory courses in manufacturing for students in grades 6 through 8.

The courses will be offered under the supervision of a Central Community College instructor.

Scott Volk, vice president of MetalQuest, said part of the program will be simply countering the popular misconceptions about manufacturing jobs and careers.

Most students, as well as many parents and teachers, know nothing about manufacturing, he said. Some believe it involves employees spending their days in dark rooms, with dirty machines, doing repetitive tasks.

The reality of modern manufacturing involves such things as directing computers and robots that do the repetitive work.

“There’s a big negative perception out there,” Volk said. “They’re going to use their head as much as their hands.”

The first round of grants, provided for the 2015-16 school year, went to Flowserve in Hastings and Hollman Media of Kearney.

Courtney Dentlinger, the state economic development director, said the hope is that the grants will help fill the workforce needs of Nebraska manufacturers by finding ways to engage and interest students earlier in their education.

She said the state has been adding about 1,000 manufacturing jobs each year, with half of them outside of Omaha and Lincoln.

Ricketts said he expects the initiative to evolve based on evaluations of the grant-funded programs.

Contact the writer: 402-473-9583, martha.stoddard@owh.com

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