An Omaha summer youth jobs program will once again connect hundreds of young people with workforce training opportunities — and organizers are seeking more local businesses to help develop and retain the next generation.
Step-Up Omaha, a public-private program that provides job training and job opportunities to young people ages 14 to 21, is accepting applicants for 2021.
The program, started in 2008, places young people with large corporations, small businesses and other organizations to learn more about STEM fields, trade skills, entrepreneurship and more.
“That’s what all young people need — a chance to succeed,” Mayor Jean Stothert said at a virtual event Thursday.
Step-Up created about 700 summer jobs in 2019, which was a bump from about 500 in 2017. The program is overseen by the Empowerment Network.
Interested young people have until March 7 to apply, which can be done on the Step-Up Omaha website.
Willie Barney, president of the Empowerment Network, said the program has the capacity to take on about 700, but organizers are hoping to push that to at least 800. About 1,200 young people have already applied.
To serve more youths, the program needs more businesses to get on board. Barney said the group would especially like to expand its internship program. American National Bank, CHI Health, the City of Omaha and the University of Nebraska Medical Center are among the large employers who accept Step-Up interns. Union Pacific is joining that list for the first time this year.
Employers and community organizations can get involved in a number of ways by visiting the Step-Up Omaha website.
“We would love to place as many (young people) as possible,” Barney said.
The coronavirus pandemic forced some changes last year. Much of the programming was done virtually, and about 500 jobs were created. But Barney said the organization still was able to expand by offering opportunities in robotics, mask-making, construction and more.
The City of Omaha this year is contributing $900,000 to the program. The Charles E. Lakin Foundation is in its second year of a three-year, $1.8 million contribution. Other partners include the Obama Foundation ($67,000) and the Peter Kieweit Foundation ($50,000). United Way and the State Office of Violence Prevention contribute each year, too.
Steve Wild, president of the Lakin Foundation, said there’s a shortage of people of color in senior management suites and board rooms across the Omaha metro area. The city also suffers from “brain drain” and a lack of skilled workers, he said.
Step-Up “is one vital tool” to address those areas, Wild said.
The jobs program will expand in a few ways this year, Barney said. Young people will be able to learn to build and fly drones through a partnership with the local chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen. Organizers also are working to reach new young people in South Omaha.
A previously announced expansion of the program into Council Bluffs was put on hold because of the pandemic. That will proceed this year, Barney said.
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