Ignite Nebraska: an Ember to a Flame

Ignite Nebraska began with the ending of a dream and the start of a new one. One night, Joni Wheeler awoke with an idea to solve a far-reaching problem: Many people who are active in the workforce are under-resourced and cannot achieve financial stability. Despite working full-time, they do not earn enough to make ends meet.

This problem disproportionally impacts people of color, who are under-represented in high-demand, high-skilled, high-paying (H3) careers. At the same time, employers often struggle to find talent to fill in-demand roles within their organizations.

Wheeler, executive vice president of talent and enterprise solutions at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska (BCBSNE), saw first-hand the need to provide greater access to H3 careers to help under-resourced individuals achieve financial stability while meeting the talent needs of employers. As a woman of color, she also understood the power of representation in the workplace and beyond. The recent birth of her grandson had her thinking about future generations and how she could be a force to help people of color have greater access to H3 careers.

Wheeler shared her idea with key stakeholders, including BCBSNE’s leadership team, state government officials, and community partners. Together, these groups assembled a passionate team of individuals dedicated to bringing Ignite Nebraska to life. The collaborators built the framework for the paid apprenticeship program, which connects participants to jobs through employer partners, who provide access to training at no cost.

Ignite Nebraska apprentices are placed in small groups, or cohorts, and go through the training program together, growing new skills side-by-side and learning from one another. The first cohort began with a pilot group of apprentices at BCBSNE. This group completed a combination of on-the-job training in BCBSNE’s Information Technology department while learning new skills through an accelerated program at Bellevue University.

The program continues to grow today with the opportunity to add new employer partners who will launch Ignite Nebraska cohorts of their own, helping to blaze a new path toward a more equitable world and light the way to life-changing careers. 

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