Work defines us. One of the first “get-to-know-you” questions people will ask is, “What do you do?” An individual’s social status is determined largely by factors stemming from his or her career success, and our entire educational system is built around making us contributing members of society. And while a great career can be financially and personally fulfilling, enriching your life and giving you something to look forward to every day, the wrong job can leave you feeling trapped and miserable for 40 or more interminable hours a week.

The Reader invited five professionals from higher education, government, union and corporate sectors to contribute their viewpoints to a virtual roundtable on the subject of work: how to prepare for a career, what jobs are available, how to find better work and what employers can do to attract and retain good employees. 

Debbie Christensen – business service representative, Nebraska Department of Labor (

What are the best resources locally and online for our local workforce to advance their careers?

LinkedIn ( is very helpful to people—that whole site—and the business part of it is very good to help people network, which is one of the most important parts in finding a job. NE Works ( is our site for companies to post jobs; we’re the only one that is free for companies to post jobs. It’s available to anyone. And of course we do have training programs that are available for companies and we have training programs that are available for companies to train their employers, like continuing education, and free. 

What is the future of work in this area? 

For employees, job-seekers, it’s wonderful. We’re close to the point where there are more jobs than people looking. With our 2.9 percent unemployment, it’s getting more difficult for employers to find people. I get calls every day from companies begging us to help them find employees; that’s kind of a recent change in the last two or three months. The last four or five years has been the reverse and now it’s getting tight again. There are excellent growth opportunities in the city and certainly the state.

Where are the jobs and how do we get ready for them?

Medical, insurance, financial, education—those are all doing really well and there are lots of jobs. But when you get to the physical types of jobs, there is a shortage in the hands-on type of work, the trained skills. Particularly welders, electricians, diesel techs, CNC operators—that’s computer operated equipment—auto body, HVAC people, construction workers, truck drivers, and IT people at a very high level. (They need) education and for many of them, continuing education. 

I think people need to start looking in high school, going to job and career fairs, and they need to look at what training is available to them. In some of the fields, there are so many people needed that companies are willing to pay for people to go to school. Of course, getting good grades. And avoiding criminal convictions…people tend to believe that that information can only go back seven or 10 years, not true. Some companies go back further. 

What are the biggest challenges holding the workforce back from career advancement? 

Training. People want to do the same job for the same pay but it doesn’t happen that way, and sometimes people who are a little bit older don’t want to do that. But six months later they’re ready to revisit that. 

And the number one thing I hear from employers that gets them crazy is the very basic soft skills that people don’t have anymore: people who can’t come to work every day, can’t come on time, can’t complete their work, are too busy playing with their gadgets at work…those very basic things you think everybody knows but apparently they don’t. And not getting along with their co-workers. More people get terminated for their soft skills. Most of them can do the work but, it’s those other things they have no responsibility for. It’s one of those things they don’t have a firm grasp on and it holds them back.

What do you wish job-seekers knew better as they aim to advance their careers?

The physical jobs are most needed and paying better. They’re giving bonuses and they’re paying for their tools and paying for their education. It’s incredible. And (the employees) are very much needed, so it’s not like you won’t have a job someday; those are always jobs that are paid well no matter what the economy is. 

And of course, in fast food we need people to serve but nobody wants to do that job. And we need truck drivers but nobody wants to do that job. But people need to realize that these are jobs that are necessary and are just important as other jobs. 

If they’re going to college, really think about what they’re doing and figure out what they can do with their degree when they’re done. 

What do you wish employers knew better as they seek talent?

Something that’s important right now is looking at the pay that people are getting. That’s a huge issue now that the economy is turning around and people are going to be looking for the most pay. 

The other thing: the truth is they’re going to have to look at other people, like people they laid off, or people who have criminal background or people who have health issues; (employers) are going to have to be a little more flexible and look at the requirements and see if they could work with those people. It used to be they could take the brightest and the best and well-trained, but we’re getting down to where (candidates) are not all in that category. The training thing, when we were young, people would train you for your job and you would move up. Today they want them to come in and be perfectly trained and ready to go today. Well, the ones who are able are (already) working. So we need to look at how we can make that work…and get back into a system where you trained and moved up and learned the job as you were working. They don’t want to hear that but it’s really true. 

What are employers doing to retain their current staff?

Flexible hours. Young people like that; they don’t want weekends and holidays, so if you can figure out how that can be or avoid those. And of course everybody wants day shifts, which is not always easy, either. People want more input on their work to give their ideas and that type of things. There are a lot of companies that do that, but a lot that don’t. 

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