Mike Cassling Leads Initiative to Bring Tech Workers to Nebraska
Nebraska is the home of CQuence Health Group and several partner companies within its roster. From our base in Omaha, we strive to make a meaningful difference in healthcare. Like many businesses throughout the city and state, we strive to hire the best and brightest talent to have a positive impact in the community.
As tech companies launch in or move to Nebraska, the state itself is experiencing growing pains when it comes to attracting and retaining the necessary workforce. The need for expert workers in the technology sector and other industries is large, and the crisis grows bigger every day.
Recently, Mike Cassling, Chairman and CEO of CQuence Health Group—together with Nebraska leaders from the business, education and nonprofit sectors—launched an initiative centered around workforce development. The effort is called the Nebraska Tech Collaborative. The goal of the group, which falls under the umbrella of the Aksarben Foundation, is to recruit the nation’s most qualified tech workers to Nebraska, while simultaneously nurturing the talented individuals already here.
“The Aksarben Foundation redirected their focus around workforce development, which is a huge issue in this state,” said Mike. “Nebraska is behind because we’ve lacked action. It’s a commonly discussed pain point, but nothing has been done. We’re going to change that.”
Businesses, Educators Step Up
Efforts from area stakeholders have drawn the support of experts across a wide cross-section of interests.
“We have leaders from K-12 education as well as higher education, the University of Nebraska, Bellevue University, Doane College and Metro Community College. Dozens of different businesses are involved and that number keeps growing, plus there are as others in the tech echosystem like the AIM Institute and other nonprofits tackling different portions of this.”
“All told, we have more than 100 people actively involved with seven different committees that are taking different approaches to fix this broad workforce problem. And it is a huge, huge problem. It’s a crisis.”
The shortage of qualified workers across industries within Nebraska is acute, and the tech sector is hit particularly hard. The Nebraska Tech Collaborative is approaching the problem in a variety of ways. First up? Recruitment.
“Our talent attraction group is looking at how we get people who maybe grew up here and left, the boomerangers as they’re called, back to Nebraska to pursue opportunities. We’re also looking at how we get people from other cities that would maybe see an opportunity to move to Omaha.”
Shifting the Culture
One of the ways the group thinks they can achieve these long-term aims is through a culture and arts focus, something that makes the Aksarben Foundation somewhat unique in their approach.
“In order to engage the younger generation, to ensure we’re being inclusive, we need to have a multi-cultural focus in terms of what Omaha and Nebraska have to offer. A prime example is bringing a pro soccer team here. We absolutely need to do more to make this a city for younger workers to come and live. That’s what’s going to draw people here; it’s not just Nebraska football. It’s the arts, it’s things to do, it’s concerts. That’s the type of stuff which will help with diversity and inclusion.”
Providing venues for additional entertainment options isn’t enough. Mike is quick to point out that businesses need to be willing to step up to the plate when it comes to ensuring diversity is an integral part of their hiring practices. And he’s not afraid to be frank with the city’s lack of past progress in this area.
“The one thing we need businesses to do is a better job with inclusion,” he said. “Historically, Omaha is not very inclusive, so we all need to be looking at diversity, reviewing policies and procedures and making deliberate steps to improve in this area. How do we get more minorities and females involved? How do we get Veterans involved? It’s going to take everyone working together. You can do some of these things individually, but we need everyone, companies, government, philanthropy, etc., all working together to fix the problem.”
The other main focus of the Nebraska Tech Collaborative is education.
“The biggest challenge we face is education from an early age,” said Mike. “We need kids to be aware of the opportunities and great companies in the state.
“One way businesses could start helping matters right now is starting an internship program. College internships are important, but we also need high school internships. We ought to be getting kids in their junior year to be aware and have an opportunity to go work within companies to see if they like or don’t like an area.
“We’re doing that here at CQuence Health Group—working with Avenue Scholars and the Millard Public Schools. Every company needs to be doing it. It’s so important to give these kids a chance to experience something and see if they like it.”
Mike believes that reevaluating our approach to how we teach kids of all ages about the tech jobs available is absolutely essential.
“We need to transform the education system,” he said. “The Nebraska Tech Collaborative is looking at how to change K-12 education so all kids have some type of technology training and are aware of the huge opportunities in the technology sector. And honestly, for them to see that there’s pretty good pay here.
“Within higher education, we’re looking at what kind of courses, either two-year or four-year college degrees, can be created and filled to supply the growing demand for tech jobs. A prime example is the University of Nebraska-Lincoln: they’re going to add another 3,000 kids into the tech system because of the need. And it’s not just them: the programming schools are stepping up, and there’s plenty of other things we can do in education to get more people involved.”
Progress Happens Here
It’s still early in the process for the Nebraska Tech Collaborative, but its efforts appear to be making a difference. More and more businesses are getting involved, and the early progress they’ve made is certainly promising.
“There’s all these different paths that we’re going down,” said Mike. “It’s going to take time. We’re being deliberately focused with Aksarben driving the conversation. This is business-led and we are going to get things done.”