Monique Cribbs - career exploration and development manager, Metropolitan Community College (www.mccneb.edu)
What are the best resources locally and online for our local workforce to advance their careers?
We partner with the Nebraska Department of Labor, and we utilize their NE Works website (neworks.nebraska.gov). The reason we do so is because first of all, the purpose of the Department of Labor is to employ Nebraskans. With their website having more than 20,000 active jobs and updating every 24 to 48 hours—it’s amazing—it allows for any job-seeker to access the system and start searching for a job once you put in your criteria.
What is the future of work in this area?
I just had a conversation about this. I had to do a paper on this, an analysis of our workforce, and I’ve been talking to some of my peers and employers about the future of employment in Omaha and what’s going on in this city. I liken it to a tale of two cities, because if you look at the Omaha Chamber of Commerce, when they market Omaha, it’s wonderful. We have low unemployment, we have low cost of living, we have above average wages based on national standards, we have a higher percentage of adults achieving bachelor’s degree or higher, we have Fortune 500 companies here. Excellent.
But then when you look at a Heartland Workforce Solutions’ (hws-ne.org) report, it talks about our high levels of high school dropouts, high rates of recidivism. Omaha ranks fifth in economic disparity between black and white populations and the city ranks 14th in poverty rate for black individuals; 32 percent of blacks live in poverty…there are true disparities. _http://www.selectgreateromaha.com/Regional-Data/Population-Demographics.aspx
There’s a gap between the two, and how do we bridge the gap? We do have programs within the city that are working with our youth, such as Avenue Scholars (avescholars.org) where they are helping students through high school and college to prepare them for the workforce.
But many students are coming out of high school and are not ready for post-secondary education. Or they may not have the skills to have a job. You could be trainable but do you even know how to keep a job? Are you going to come to work? And when you’re at work, are you going to do what you’re supposed to? Those things some people may take for granted but other people, regardless of age, don’t know: It’s soft skills…who teaches that? I say to my students, “Look at your audience.” Think about who’s talking to you about what’s appropriate or not. I would do mock interviews in the classroom and I would have some students dressed like they were going to a nightclub. But their thought was, “My friends said I look good!” Good for what? It’s about context, being appropriate for the situation. A lot of people don’t know those things and it’s not always younger students, it’s across the board.
Where are the jobs and how do we get ready for them?
For our area, we have a lot of unmet need in IT. Also our trades, and it extends across so many different places: welding, truck driving, manufacturing, construction, transportation/distribution/logistics, the health care (sector). We have a lot of people retiring and/or you have open positions that require special training in certain skill sets; you can’t just walk in and say, “I’m going to wire your home.” I receive so many phone calls and emails for trades-related positions. It’s nonstop and I think that’s a positive thing, but it also confirms—every day—the need.
I was just at a career fair a couple of weeks ago and I talked to an employer who stated that they have a $10,000 scholarship for any student who goes into their area. They can get the training at Metro or other schools that are more expensive, and if they earn the degree they can come out making at least $60,000.
If you think about attending Metro where we have one of the lowest tuition rates and you have a scholarship, you can come out without paying a dime and walk into a job making more than some students who earn a four-year degree.
What are the biggest challenges holding the workforce back from career advancement?
I think it’s going back to having that education, having those skills. If you don’t have the skill sets, then we can’t fill the positions. Maybe it’s going back to high school students. Are we preparing them for the next step? It doesn’t mean that every student who graduates will go to college, that’s a reality. But can we at least get them certified in an area that will help them?
If you go back to your core, what it is you like to do…it’s truly about doing what you love, and for some it’s not clear those first couple of years…That’s what career services—whether it’s college or you’re at a staffing agency—all of us want to help people figure out what they want to do and get them to the right opportunity.
What do you wish job-seekers knew better as they aim to advance their careers?
Our tagline is “Discover your passion.” Discover what you love to do and find out your natural abilities and talents. And then we ask students to engage in their education, meaning now you’re in a program of study but it’s more than reading the book and doing the homework. It’s doing an internship and finding an entry-level position into that field you’re interested in. And that’s the timeframe where you start to think about if this is really a good fit for you…If you don’t love it, come back in to talk to an advisor and tweak your program. And lastly is to navigate your career. That’s where it comes to networking with employers, using NE Works, using Intern Nebraska (internne.com). We have resources, we have employers who want to hire, but they also want people with relevant work experience.
What do you wish employers knew better as they seek talent?
Students don’t always see the connection between the program of study and relevant work experience; sometimes the mindset is, “I have a job.” Yes, you may have a job but it’s not relevant to your area of interest. There are employers coming in saying they have entry-level positions open but the student is thinking, “But I already have a job.” As career services professionals, we are working with students on the differences between being employed and being employed in a relevant area. It may be a culture change and it takes time…Every employer is different, every process is different and it’s an unknown. Some people get overwhelmed.
What are employers doing to retain their current staff?
What I’ve heard from many employers is that they’re offering the flexible scheduling, they have a tuition reimbursement program, they promote from within. We have employers who are highly cognizant of job-seekers who are trying to better or enrich their lives, but I think anything that you can do to meet students’ needs and support them through the process is a plus.