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EDGE Initiative addresses local workforce gaps

EDGE Initiative addresses local workforce gaps


In an effort to create a “more robust workforce in Hall County,” the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce and Grow Grand Island have developed an upskilling and retraining program.

The initiative is called Essential Skills in Demand to Fill Gaps with Area Employers.

According to Cindy Johnson, president of the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce, EDGE is set to launch soon. It will have a “strict agenda of building a stronger workforce for Grand Island businesses.”

According to Johnson, community entities, in addition to the chamber and Grow Grand Island, were “brought to the table to aid in creating content, curriculum and protocols for the program.”

She said the EDGE logistics are carried out by a team of representatives who met and developed the program over an 18-month span. Partners include Associated Staffing, Central Community College and the Nebraska Department of Labor.

“Ensuring our workforce is skilled and educated in the positions available in Grand Island, or positions we anticipate in the future, is key to retaining and growing Grand Island’s business economy,” Johnson said.

Like many communities in Nebraska, she said, Grand Island has low unemployment. At times, they experience a mismatch between skills required for various positions and actual skill sets possessed by the workforce.

Johnson said this skills gap can have a significant effect on business productivity, expansion and continuation.

“COVID-19 has added a new element and has intensified the need to address the skills gap. One approach addressing the skills gap is reskilling or upskilling,” she said. “Many businesses are investing in reskilling or upskilling current employees to better fit with the job skills their company requires and, in turn, increase productivity.”

As EDGE begins, Tonja Brown, chairwoman of Grow Grand Island, will assist Courtney Lierman, the chamber’s talent pipeline director, in seeking mentors and participants for the program.

“We understand that simply going through the motions of completing coursework and self-evaluations isn’t always enough to make a profound impact,” Lierman said. “Having a mentor alongside the participants for the duration of the program allows them to answer questions and offer real-life guidance. These trusting relationships, as well as accountability, will be key in creating success stories.”

Brown said the ideal mentor is someone who has been in the business world themselves.

“We are looking for business-minded individuals who are able to spend maybe a few hours each month checking in and guiding our participants,” she said. “This will be such a rewarding volunteer role and you will be able to see the success stories firsthand.”

In addition to seeking mentors, Lierman said, they soon will be accepting referrals for individuals who may be qualified candidates for the program. A referral can come from the individual seeking to participate or from an employer or supervisor at their current job.

“Our primary focus is on upskilling of our workforce, which is directly related to taking underqualified or educated individuals and providing the skill-building tools they need to increase their current employment or reach their professional goals,” she said.

EDGE is aimed to help individuals who are underemployed, such as those who went straight into the workforce after high school or started college but didn’t finish, so they seem to be overlooked for desired promotions or advancements. It also could be an individual who feels stuck in a job that does not meet their financial needs or professional satisfaction — or an individual who works multiple part-time jobs, but would like full-time employment with benefits.

“The individuals participating in the program want to improve their economic status and are committed to making small changes that can result in big differences,” Lierman said. “We are here to be that boost of support and provide resources to make it happen.”

Lierman said EDGE is just one of several workforce programs the chamber is spearheading to create a sustainable workforce for the Grand Island community for years to come. Other programs include college internship pipelines and retention of young talent in central Nebraska.

“Recognizing that today’s workforce has already chosen to live in central Nebraska and, in most cases, committed to an industry, trade or employer, investing in an employee can produce great return for companies,” she said. “Managing human capital strategically, especially in a tight marketplace and a pandemic, can be a sound investment for business leaders today, and pay dividends in the future.”

To learn more about how you can serve as a mentor or if know of a potential participant for the EDGE program, contact Lierman at 308.382.9211 or by email at

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