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Thomas Von Tersch is a student in Metropolitan Community College's auto technology program at the college's South Omaha campus. 

Does an adult’s lack of a bachelor’s degree mean he or she has no hope for serious employment? In the Omaha area, that needn’t be so in many cases, provided the individual receives proper training. A new national report explains why.

The study, by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia and Cleveland, analyzed the economies of 121 U.S. metropolitan areas and ranked them on how well they provide job opportunities for such adults. The Omaha area scored relatively well: 35th out of the 121.

The study analyzed each metro area for its number of “opportunity jobs” — those that don’t require a bachelor’s degree and typically pay above the national median wage of $37,690. Nationally, such jobs account for 21.6%. The figure for the Omaha area is considerably higher: 26.3%.

This doesn’t mean it’s easy to connect workers with employment in all cases. But the findings do indicate that the Omaha area has considerable potential to address its underemployment problem through outreach, cooperation between businesses and educational institutions, plus strategic investments in workforce training.

These are the most plentiful “opportunity jobs” in the Omaha-Council Bluffs metro, according to the report:

» Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers: 12,900 positions; $39,400 annual median wage.

» Registered nurses: 8,300 positions; $61,700 annual median wage. This number reflects the statewide employment trend in Nebraska. The health care sector provided Nebraska’s largest employment growth during 2000-17, with the number of jobs increasing from 99,000 to nearly 142,000.

» Carpenters: 4,100 positions; $40,900 annual median wage.

» Maintenance and repair workers: 4,000 positions; $39,300 annual median wage.

» Bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks: 3,800 positions; $37,500 annual median wage.

Other opportunity-job categories in the top 10 for the Omaha area: general and operations managers; electricians; supervisors of retail sales workers; supervisors of office and administrative support workers; and plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters.

Those findings are in line with what Metropolitan Community College, the Omaha business community and organized labor have been seeing and working to address cooperatively, says MCC President Randy Schmailzl. MCC has made significant investments, in consultation with business and labor, to provide worker training pegged to real-world needs, Schmailzl said:

» The Center for Advanced and Emerging Technology, which helps trainees understand the close connections between computer systems and technology-related manufacturing operations.

» The Construction Education Center, whose training includes disciplines such as architectural drafting, civil engineering, electrical technology and plumbing.

» Auto technology and auto collision programs, expanding into a 100,000-square-foot building at MCC’s South Omaha campus.

MCC’s cooperation with local businesses, Schmailzl says, enables “earn to learn” training in which students gain on-the-job experience while in school. Businesses provide a considerable number of scholarships for MCC students.

“That kind of cooperation has been growing by leaps and bounds in the last five years,” Schmailzl told The World-Herald, “and is the reason we’re on a better track to fill these jobs than we’ve ever been.”

The report provides information on the Omaha area’s overall job composition. Lower-wage jobs, which on a payment scale below that of opportunity jobs, account for a lower portion of jobs here than nationally (47.3% in Omaha, 50.8% nationally). The Omaha area is slighting below the overall U.S. figure for jobs requiring at least a bachelor’s degree account (26.4% here; 27.7% nationally).

Several of Omaha’s competing metro areas scored higher in the opportunity-jobs ranking than did Omaha: Des Moines, third; Kansas City, 10th; Wichita, 17th; Tulsa, 20th.

There are no quick remedies to the underemployment challenges, but this new report provides encouragement about the Omaha area’s potential for progress, building on the cooperation and achievements already made.

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