or being a community that says it needs its young people to stick around, Grand Island has a funny way of showing it. That’s what Mike Henke, general manager of the Grand Island human resources firm Associated Staffing, concluded after talking to groups of Grand Island high-schoolers. Many high-schoolers say they want to leave the state because there’s nothing to do.
“As a community, we’ve kind of run them out of the things that they love to do,” Henke told the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce Executives on Thursday. “Then we’re shocked when they want to leave.” Henke was speaking to a group of about 20 chamber officials at the Nebraska Chamber Executives’ summer/fall conference at Grand Island’s Midtown Holiday Inn. He said that, for many Nebraska towns, that workforce crisis largely hinges on two aspects: The inability to find workers for entry-level, mostly unskilled labor positions and what’s often called the “brain drain” — the inability to attract the state’s young professionals to come back home.
Those problems are helping lead to a labor shortage that’s expected to get worse as baby boomers retire, Henke said. In response, Henke advised towns to be aggressive about marketing themselves to prospective residents and employees. This generation of young adults tends to choose a community to live in first and a job second, he said. That puts the onus on towns to sell themselves through an active Web site comprehensively listing those cool things to do or communications with a database of high school graduates, he said. Businesses themselves aren’t exempt, either. Henke said the old mentality of “here’s your job — take it or leave it” is dead, replaced by companies that provide loads of perks and bonuses to attract and keep the best employees. “I hate the ‘woe-is-me’ attitude in some communities in the state,” Henke said. “We have so much to offer.”