LINCOLN — Companies in Hastings and Kearney were awarded the first grants Tuesday in a program that Gov. Pete Ricketts hopes will lead to more kids choosing technical and manufacturing careers.

Flowserve Corp. will work with the Hastings Public Schools to expand tech classes in middle school to incorporate a manufacturing focus.

In Kearney, Hollman Media will work with the public school system to cultivate interest in careers in information technology among sixth- through eighth-graders.

The two companies were chosen to split $250,000 in funds set aside by the Nebraska Developing Youth Talent Initiative, unveiled by the governor in January.

Ricketts said the idea is mostly a pilot program for now, but he hopes to expand it to more schools if it proves successful.

“These are the type of public-private partnerships we must encourage across Nebraska to help our communities and our schools connect young Nebraskans with the great careers they are looking for and to build the 21st-century workforce,” the governor said at a Tuesday morning press conference.

Ricketts joined representatives of the two winning firms in saying that by reaching kids earlier, in middle school, more students may become interested in choosing careers in technical fields.

For years, a shortage of skilled workers, including electricians, welders and IT professionals, has been cited as a problem in Nebraska.

“It’s a barrier for our companies to expand here in the state,” Ricketts said.

Travis Hollman, president of Hollman Media, said the problem can be “solved in our own backyard” by creating “excitement” about IT careers at an earlier age.

Hollman, whose 10-employee firm develops websites and mobile apps, said the Kearney project will expose 1,000 students a year at the sixth-grade level to careers in IT. During seventh grade, students will be asked to envision a problem at their school that could be solved with technology.

The goal during the eighth grade, Hollman said, will be to take the best idea and, with the help of people at his business, turn it into a product that will solve that problem.

Middle school students “think in a little bit different way,” he said, which is valuable in creating new products.

The 40-member Hastings Area Manufacturers Association already is working with the local public high school and Central Community College to provide a “career pathways” program for local tech jobs.

Bob Wilson of Flowserve said the group was thinking about expanding the program into the middle schools when it learned of the grants being offered by the governor. “The timing of this grant is perfect,” Wilson said. “It will allow us to buy equipment and build a curriculum much sooner.”

He said the career pathways program, which has 12 participants, could see participation triple by expanding it into the middle school.

Also Tuesday, Ricketts said he will be joining a contingent from Nebraska, including Lt. Gov. Mike Foley, in Japan this weekend as they continue their trade mission.

Ricketts said he would be attending a luncheon in Japan and then traveling on to Beijing. He said that representatives of the insurance company AFLAC will accompany him and that he will assisting them in expanding their Far East business.

Contact the writer: 402-473-9584, paul.hammel@owh.com

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