This press release was written and first published by the Office of Gov. Pete Ricketts. 

Pictured from left to right: Joni Wheeler, Laura Croswell, Dr. Mary Hawkins, Gov. Pete Ricketts, Tony Goins, John Albin and Dannette Smith.

Today, Gov. Pete Ricketts held a press conference highlighting two workforce training models designed to bring up Nebraskans: Ignite Nebraska and SNAP Next Step Employment and Training (SNAP Next Step).

Ignite Nebraska is an innovative workforce development program designed to create meaningful career development opportunities for individuals who are active in the workforce and receive public assistance benefits but are underrepresented in higher-paying, high-impact industries. Participants engage in a paid six-to-nine month training program, where they learn the skills needed to gain full employment in an in-demand field. Those who complete the program are guaranteed a full-time job.

“Nebraska is full of talent and drive,” said Gov. Ricketts. “Ignite Nebraska is a workforce development program that harnesses the potential of underserved Nebraskans and readies them for a career in an in-demand field. We’re targeting state aid to help bring Nebraskans up out of poverty, and in doing so we can help generations of underserved communities thrive.”

Ignite Nebraska serves as a model for what can be achieved when the private sector, public sector and academia come together to serve Nebraskans. Governor Ricketts was joined by key leaders driving the program:

  • Joni Wheeler, executive vice president for talent and enterprise solutions for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska (BCBSNE) and founder of Ignite Nebraska
  • Tony Goins, director of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development
  • John Albin, director of the Nebraska Department of Labor
  • Dannette Smith, CEO of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services
  • Dr. Mary Hawkins, president of Bellevue University

“Ignite Nebraska was born from a desire to make a difference and help solve workforce challenges for employers as well as members of our own community,” said Wheeler. “There’s so much talent right here in our community and across our state. If we give someone a meaningful job, we give them hope, pride, passion and purpose. Most importantly, we give them the power to lift up their families.”

The program launched in February 2022 and has since graduated its inaugural class of four Nebraskans. A second cohort is expected to graduate in spring of 2023. While the program is focused on developing IT professionals, there is promise to expand the model to other in-demand fields in companies across Nebraska.

During today’s press conference, a graduate of the inaugural Ignite class shared her personal story. “As a single mom of two, I worked job after job just to put food on the table for my kids,” said Laura Croswell. “Ignite has allowed me to excel in a career where my pay reflects the talents I’ve developed. Thank you to Ignite Nebraska for investing in me and helping me provide my children with financial stability for years to come.”

Governor Ricketts also highlighted another successful program designed to lift Nebraskans out of poverty. SNAP Next Step is a program run by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services and the Nebraska Department of Labor. It is designed to help under-employed and unemployed Nebraskans on the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) get into higher-paying jobs.

Since 2016, SNAP Next Step has served 737 Nebraska families. Of these, 363 SNAP Next Step participants have successfully completed the program and have reached their employment goals. This has resulted in an average increase in earned income of $2,104.53 a month, or $25,254.36 per year. And 60% of those participants are no longer in need of SNAP benefits.

For businesses interested in taking part in Ignite Nebraska, please visit For SNAP recipients interested in the SNAP Next Step program, please visit DHHS.NE.Gov/SNAP.