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Engineering and technology teachers John Bombac, left, and Tyler Foster look at a blueprint of the expanded Engineering and Technology Lab at Westside High School. 

High schools across Nebraska are teaming up with private industry to help train the next generation of workers. This is a vital mission for the state’s economy. Nebraska’s labor market is tight, and the need to meet the job demands is great.

Consider the job market for auto mechanics — or auto services technicians, to use the industry’s term — given the increasingly computerized nature of modern vehicles. “To meet anticipated demand and respond to attrition,” Automotive News recently reported, “the industry will need about 46,000 more technicians by 2026 — a 6% growth rate from 2016.” Retirements are a significant factor spurring that job need.

The same job demand holds true for technicians who service heavy construction equipment — about 20,000 positions will need to be filled over the next five years.

It’s encouraging to see the new internship program in which local auto dealers are working with the Avenue Scholars Foundation to provide training in auto and diesel technology. The internships — which also include other types of local industries — provide not only job training but also instruction in professional skills such as punctuality and teamwork.

Metropolitan Community College has been attentive to this need, with its $32.5 million investment in a new building on its South Omaha campus for auto technology and auto collision programs. Private donations will cover about half the cost. MCC works with local auto dealers to ensure that the training is directly relevant to real-world needs.

Job demands are high in the manufacturing sector, too. Last year, more than 480,000 positions in the sector went unfilled. As a result, more than one in four companies indicated in a survey that labor shortages forced them to turn down new business opportunities, the National Association of Manufacturers reports.

If Nebraska’s manufacturing sector could fill all its needed positions, it could grow by 10%, says Bryan Slone, president of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The opportunities are out there, with many of the jobs paying well. Last year, pharmaceuticals and medicines provided 11.3% of job growth in Nebraska’s manufacturing sector, according to the National Association of Manufacturers. Some other sources of manufacturing job growth in the state: medical equipment and supplies, 10.4%; motor vehicles, 7.3%; motor vehicle parts, 4.1%.

Iowa this year ranked sixth in the nation for one-year job creation in the manufacturing sector, adding 7,800 jobs. Iowa’s top sources of manufacturing job creation during 2018: aerospace products and parts, 11.2%; machinery for agriculture, construction and mining, 9.7%; pharmaceuticals and medicine, 7.1%; general purpose machinery, 6%.

A new report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City analyzes Nebraska’s workforce. Some key points from the study:

» The labor force participation rates for millennials, Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980) and baby boomers in Nebraska are all “sharply higher” than the national average.

» Since 2014, millennials have accounted for the largest share (almost 40%) of Nebraska’s labor force. Baby boomers make up 25% (down from almost 60% in the early 1990s) and Generation X, 30%.

» The Great Recession delayed participation in the labor force by a considerable portion of Nebraska millennials. After the recession, 73% of millennials were employed in the state.

» Millennials account for a higher share of Nebraska service industry employment, and a smaller share of manufacturing and agriculture employment, than did older generations at the same point in their lives.

The more that Nebraska’s young people can be trained and introduced to well-paying job opportunities, the greater the benefits for them and the state as a whole. The many efforts across Nebraska to promote this goal deserve a salute.

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