Here, students fall in love with this Nebraska city, thanks to great schools and colleges, outstanding local support, and vital work experience at local businesses.
A hallmark of the Kearney and Buffalo County region’s economy is the ability to grow its talent. The secret to the region’s successful workforce development efforts is the presence of quality schools and higher education institutions that provide employers with a deep pool of skilled workers.
A key supplier of talent for the region’s employers is the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK), which enrolls more than 6,000 students in 170 undergraduate and graduate degree programs. The university works to connect students to local in-demand careers through career fairs, internships, community volunteer opportunities and networking events.
“We work with businesses to encourage them to hire our current students while they’re in college,” Amy Rundstrom, director of academic advising and career development at UNK. “And then we like to try and transition students to the business community on a full-time basis after they graduate. Our goal is to keep the talent that we have at UNK in the area.”
“We really try to cultivate what we call a town and gown relationship and work with all of the local businesses to fill
any workforce needs that they might have.”
Amy Rundstrom | University of Nebraska at Kearney
Rundstrom says achieving that goal is made easier because many students “fall in love with Kearney” and have a desire to stay in the community after they graduate. “Getting them involved in the community while they’re an undergraduate, I think, leads to that desire to stay here because they’ve developed relationships within the business community and the community at large.”
One way the university helps build those relationships is through an experiential learning requirement for all undergraduate students.
“Every student — regardless of their major — is encouraged to work with a local business or with a local organization to further their skills,” Rundstrom says. “The relationship benefits the student as well as the employer. One thing we’re doing in my office specifically is helping all students understand that regardless of what their specific major is, they can do a lot of different things with it.”
Preparing for Life After High School
A host of top-tier private schools — including Kearney Catholic High School, Faith Christian School and Zion Lutheran School — and the highly regarded Kearney Public Schools system also play a pivotal role in the region’s workforce development efforts.
“All of our efforts center around helping students find success, explore opportunities and prepare for life after high school,” says Melissa Herrmann, director of 6-12 education for Kearney Public Schools. “Each student has a different path and different goals. Our College and Career Readiness efforts and events — from job shadows, career fairs, and college and career curriculum to skill and interest inventories, internships, and senior interviews — all help students gain the knowledge and skills to help them make decisions about their future.”
Powerful Partnerships in the Community
Herrmann credits the community for providing the district with resources such as guest speakers, internships and job shadow opportunities that aid its career readiness efforts.
“We pair these in-person and hands-on activities with our College and Career Readiness activities so that students can see how their knowledge and skills can lead to jobs in the future,” Herrmann says. “Often, students need to see the connection between their accounting class and the jobs that are out there for those students who gain that knowledge and experience. These partnerships help bring that learning to life.”
In addition to the high school career academies, which offer pathways to local in-demand fields, including health sciences, agribusiness, IT and communications, the district partners with UNK and Central Community College for its dual enrollment program.
“We offer a wide variety of dual credit and early college opportunities for our students. We have great community partnerships with both UNK and CCC to offer different experiences for students who are exploring a skilled trade as well as earning credit toward a collegiate program,” Herrmann says. “Many of our AP courses are also dual credit, which provides diverse opportunities for students to earn credit not just at our local colleges and universities, but also at institutions outside of Nebraska.”