Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts

LINCOLN — Gov. Pete Ricketts unveiled a plan Tuesday to require Nebraskans who are receiving unemployment benefits to participate in a “re-employment” plan or lose those benefits.

Ricketts, in a press release, said Nebraska’s program will be unique in the nation. He said it should help workers find new jobs more quickly and help employers fill jobs in a state that has the lowest unemployment rate in the country.

“This program provides the one-on-one assistance that workers need as they look to transition off unemployment benefits and into good jobs that fit their skills and experience,” the Republican governor said.

“Providing Nebraskans with an individualized plan as they seek new employment opportunities will aid them in expeditiously re-entering the workforce,” he said.

The new program addresses a concern Ricketts recently expressed: that Nebraska has a “labor force participation rate” of about 70.1 percent, which ranks No. 2 nationally but has fallen from 73 percent in 2009.

The immediate reaction to the new program, which will be launched in October, was a mixture of approval and caution.

State Sen. Burke Harr of Omaha, who heads the Legislature’s Business and Labor Committee, said he had not yet read the details of the program but said any time you can help someone find a new job sooner it’s “a good thing.”

Harr said he wants to know whether there will be enough resources to help the unemployed find or train for new jobs.

The re-employment program is being coordinated by the Nebraska Department of Labor, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Labor, which is providing a $354,000 grant to cover the new staff and technological upgrades that will be required.

Nebraska officials have been asked to make a presentation about the program later this week at a workforce innovation conference in Chicago because it is a novel approach.

John Albin, Nebraska’s commissioner of labor, said that, previously, only unemployed claimants who were identified as the most likely to exhaust benefits were required to enroll in a re-employment plan.

Under the new approach, nearly everyone must enroll.

“We are now taking a more aggressive approach to accelerate the re-employment process for all job seekers to ensure that all of our agency’s customers have the highest level of support as they seek re-employment,” Albin said in a press release.

The initiative will include training workers in using the electronic résumé and job search functions in NEworks, the Department of Labor’s employment website.

Unemployed workers will also have to take a “career interest assessment” and develop an individualized re-employment plan with a job coach.

A data-driven job search will also be done in hopes of linking up potential employees and their skills with available jobs in their area.

The focus will be on so-called “3-H” jobs — high wage, high skill and high demand — according to Lorena Hernandez, administrator of workforce services for the State Labor Department.

She said the state currently helps re-employ about 6,800 people a year and hopes to help another 8,000 a year in the new program.

Hernandez said the program could be especially helpful to employers who are having a hard time finding workers because of the state’s low unemployment rate.

Currently, Nebraskans can get about 26 weeks of unemployment benefits but must demonstrate that they are applying for jobs to stay eligible.

Claims for unemployment insurance in Nebraska have fallen steadily since 2009, when the state was sending out nearly $40 million a month in checks. About $4 million a month has been paid out in recent months.

In May, the state received 5,214 initial claims for unemployment insurance. Currently, NEworks has more than 18,000 searchable résumés and about 57,000 posted job openings.

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

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