The Nebraska Tech Collaborative (NTC) exists “to grow the technology talent ecosystem in order to advance long-term economic prosperity for all Nebraska.” Our talent ecosystem is well-served by an exceptional higher education system comprised of thriving public and private institutions, each driving critical research and educating our current and future workforce. To further the impact of higher education, the NTC formed a committee to focus our collaboration with other NTC committees and like-minded higher education champions.
Economic prosperity for all Nebraska demands a strong tech talent ecosystem underpinned by a thriving higher education system. The vision for the NTC Higher Education Committee is “to develop the Nebraska higher education institutions to be the premier talent developers for the current and future needs of the tech talent ecosystem.” Does this imply a gap? Maybe “opportunity” is more accurate. We have an opportunity – a call to action – to meet growing demand for tech talent necessary to empower our state’s economic growth.
The following “interventions” have been identified to deliver on higher education opportunities:
- Retain high school and college graduates in Nebraska
- Attract out-of-state students
- Improve the collaboration between businesses and higher education
- Empower the K-12 STEM pipeline that feeds higher education institutions
- Invite our alumni to return home
Let’s dive in deeper, beginning with retaining our high school and college graduates. It’s no secret that other states are actively recruiting our talented high school graduates. We must remind and connect our graduates with compelling reasons to stay in state. Universities and stakeholders must join together to amplify our recruiting “story.” Once in college, we will connect our STEM degree-seekers with Nebraska-based connections and internships to show them compelling in-state career opportunities.
Next, let’s look at attracting out-of-state students. Just as other states recruit our students, we must make a strong pitch to attend a Nebraska university or community college. Our schools have highly recognized degree programs in computers, engineering, business and science. We can also tout prestigious Big 10 and Big East affiliations. A Nebraska education is second to none.
We also want to advance the collaboration between business stakeholders and higher education. “Two heads are always better than one.” Higher education cannot do this alone. Business leaders, many of whom are alumni, can assist through promoting internships and full-time jobs (NTC Internship Committee). Business and higher education leaders can engage in curriculum development and collaborate on research. This is the kind of teamwork Nebraskans are famous for.
We aspire to support the K-12 pipeline that ultimately feeds higher education STEM degree enrollment by partnering with the NTC PK-12 Committee. K-12 school systems need STEM-trained teachers and resources. Technology is changing rapidly. Teachers need higher ed help. Research has shown that early elementary school is the optimal time to create STEM interest in a young learner. We must plant and nurture these seeds for our long-term future. Business and higher education can help through actively developing and supporting educators and cooperative programs that help young learners discover STEM education pathways.
And last, we want to invite Nebraskans to return home. Our alumni have explored and accomplished great things all over the world. Some will consider returning to “the good life.” We want to reconnect with each person and help them explore options and make a homecoming plan.
The current pandemic environment might distract us and/or cause us to relax the urgency. This would not be wise. NTC Chairman Mike Cassling recently wrote an Op Ed article in the Omaha World-Herald that said, “There will soon be a time when we’re rebuilding from this tragedy, and every state, Nebraska included, will rely on the most creative among us to restore the jobs pipeline, to develop new ideas that spring into tomorrow’s most popular enterprises and to keep the wheels of progress moving.” The NTC vision demands that we move ahead with urgency and focus. Our future depends on this work!
Mike Lechtenberger is the Chief Information Officer for Mutual of Omaha and is a member of the NTC Executive Committee & Chair of the Higher Education Committee