By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – It’s definitely a seller’s market.
Mike Catlett, infrastructure and support manager for Chief Industries, borrowed the real estate term to describe the current demand for information technology workers in Nebraska.
“We’re seeing a lot of competition in our area for employees,” said Catlett, noting that it can take “months upon months” to fill some positions.
This challenge isn’t unique to Chief Industries, a multifaceted manufacturing and construction company that serves residential, commercial and agricultural clients, along with producing ethanol and operating a trucking service.
The demand for technology workers is high across the country as U.S. employers look to fill thousands of open positions, creating a golden opportunity for the current crop of college students.
“There are lots of options for students,” said Catlett. “People coming into the area have such a wide range of things to choose from.”
Chief, which has a staff of about 25 people in the IT department at its Grand Island headquarters, was one of 14 employers on the University of Nebraska at Kearney campus Thursday for a career event hosted by UNK’s Cyber Systems Department.
The 50 UNK students in attendance were a hot commodity.
Catlett had immediate openings for graduating seniors, as well as opportunities for underclassmen interested in interning with the company before transitioning to a full-time position.
And he wasn’t alone.
“We’re always hiring,” said Jadon Smith, a field engineer with Five Nines. “If you have the experience and you’re ready to go out there and meet people, you can get a job in IT.”
Smith, who earned a degree in information networking and telecommunications from UNK in May 2018, completed an internship with Kearney-based Educational Service Unit 10 and worked for Intellicom before joining Five Nines, a managed IT services provider, nearly a year ago.
He pointed to the knowledgeable faculty and professional networking events like Thursday’s career fair as strengths of UNK’s technology programs.
“Once you’re ready to graduate and get a job, you already know who to talk to and people already know you,” Smith said. “UNK does a really good job of getting you a job out of college.”
UNK’s Cyber Systems Department, which includes the computer science, information technology, information networking and telecommunications, business intelligence and cybersecurity programs, had a 100% job placement rate last year. Most of those graduates accepted positions in Nebraska.
That’s a plus for people like Catlett.
“I really enjoy hiring UNK graduates because most of them have roots in central Nebraska, so they’re not looking to leave the area,” he said. “And they’re well-skilled.”
Many area companies offer entry-level IT positions with annual salaries in the $40,000 to $50,000 range. According to CompTIA, an IT trade group, tech jobs have a median yearly wage of nearly $82,000 nationwide.
In addition to being a lucrative career, it’s also an enjoyable one.
“Everyone I’ve worked with loves it,” Smith said. “If this is something you’re interested in, you can really have fun.”
That was a selling point for Thomas Russell, who is among the 100-plus students enrolled in programs within UNK’s Cyber Systems Department.
“I want to do something new every day,” said Russell, an information technology major from Omaha. “With IT, there’s always a new problem to solve.”
The UNK senior interned last summer with Five Nines, which has locations in Kearney, Omaha, Lincoln and Central City, and he currently works for the company part time. Russell hopes to transition to a full-time position when he graduates in May.
“I love this company,” he said. “I like being with them, and they know that.”
If that plan doesn’t work out, he knows there will be plenty of other options to choose from.
“My issue isn’t, ‘Can I get a job?’” Russell said. “There are always going to be jobs out there. It’s a matter of finding the ideal job I want at that exact moment.
“Companies are always hiring.”