Tag Archives: First Data

Bellevue University’s Strategic Partnerships

January 22, 2019 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In an era when hundreds of thousands of young people labor under the spectre of crushing student debt, a solution for many may lie on a college campus just south of Omaha.

Over the past two decades, Bellevue University has developed various corporate learning programs as part of its strategic partnerships with local and national businesses.

Essentially, it means Bellevue provides educational programs these companies need. Employees of the corporations enroll in these programs and take the corresponding classes, making them more useful employees to the companies.

In return, the companies fund part or all of their employee’s education, allowing them to graduate with little or no student debt.

For many of these employees, attending college would be difficult without this aid.

“Since college tuition has been really expensive, I kind of didn’t want to do it. But since this opportunity came, I decided, ‘why not?’” says Felicia Gadberry, 29, a Walmart associate and participant in the program.

The students need the education, and with baby boomers retiring at a rapid rate, businesses need the trained workers.

“Right now in the United States we are losing about 10,000 people per day to retirements,” says Jim Nekuda, Bellevue University’s vice president of strategic partnerships. “With that loss in the labor market, it has created a gap in talent because there is not enough people to fill these positions. So organizations have had to get a little more savvy on how to recruit and how to retain these employees.”

The lightening of their financial load is not the only thing that motivates students, Nekuda says. Their next priority tends to be professional development. Students are looking for employers willing to invest in them.

Bellevue works with some companies to develop specific programs.

For example: to take advantage of the tuition program at Walmart, a student must enroll  in either the school’s supply chain, transportation, and logistics management program, or the business leadership and management program. The already-existing programs were revamped in cooperation with the company to satisfy a need—business managers and leaders who understand the
supply chain.

“The learning centers around what is going on at Walmart,” Nekuda says. “They are able to translate what they use in the classroom the very next day on the job.”

Gadberry, a supply chain, transportation, and logistics management student, says that was a big benefit.

“I’m in class with different Walmart employees as well…and they are also talking about their experiences,” she says. “It’s giving me an idea of what other Walmarts are like.”

In other cases, companies will fund their employee’s education without regard to what kind of degree they pursue. Employees at Disney can enroll in any program under their benefits structure.

“Their focus was on, ‘We want this to be a good benefit for our cast members. We want them to get an education. We want to help them,’” Nekuda says.

It was the same with Chipotle, he says. The company knows it will have a difficult time holding onto employees once they graduate. But it wanted to do something to help them as part of its corporate social responsibility mission.

“They want to educate the workforce no matter where they go,” Nekuda says. “But many [students working for these companies] do stay and they are loyal to the company because that organization invested in them.”

While these efforts could be construed as public relations, most of the conversations between Bellevue and the companies revolve around corporate social responsibility and an educated workforce.

A big benefit to the business is saving money on recruiting. “When they don’t have to spend $5-to-$10,000 because someone leaves, they are saving money,” Nekuda says.

Rod Sanders, vice president of talent management at Marco’s Pizza agrees: “If that incentivizes them to stay even a month or two longer, that’s a big benefit to us in this tight labor market.”

Which makes the amount the companies spend on education seem worthwhile. What companies contribute to the education of their employees depends on the company. Some only offer $1,000 per year and others pay for everything. For Walmart associate Gadberry, the company is covering the majority of the cost of her education. She pays $5 per week throughout the semester. Disney pays for all costs associated with an employee’s college degree at Bellevue.

The same is true for post-graduation  requirements. Some companies ask their employees to stay for a year or two after graduating. Others, like Marco’s Pizza, have no post-graduation requirements.

For the Toledo-based chain, the relationship with Bellevue has the potential to pay off as the rapidly growing company increases its number of corporate employees. And Sanders sees Bellevue as a potential source of training for human resources and other subjects at the undergraduate and graduate level.

“They have a very good reputation,” he says of the university. “It adds a sense of security and comfort, having them as an educational partner.”

These programs aren’t just for undergraduate students. Bellevue’s MBA program has 19 different concentrations, many of which were developed in conjunction with companies such as First Data and PayPal. Other master’s degrees were started through different corporate partnerships.

“They had a need,” Nekuda says. “Most of their workforce already had bachelor’s degrees, but they needed [people with] advanced degrees.”

And for the students, the benefits are more than monetary.

“It’s making me look at my work better,” Gadberry says. “It’s giving me more ideas on how to be a better employee.”

Thanks to her degree, “I feel like I’ll be more knowledgeable later on in life,” she says.

Visit bellevue.edu for more information.

This article was printed in the February/March 2019 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Jim Nekuda, Bellevue University’s vice president of strategic partnerships

The Right Stuff

October 2, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Raymond Page can trace his family’s military history to the Civil War and the 7th Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment. Family members fought in World War I. His namesake grandfather survived a bullet wound after being shot on the beaches of Normandy during World War II.

Such a deep legacy of service may explain why, shortly after entering a university close to his rural northern Pennsylvania home, Page decided he wasn’t cut out for college. 

In 1988, at age 18, Page opted to follow his father and two older brothers into the U.S. Air Force. Another kind of education kicked in immediately at Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue. 

“My first career was a radio operator, because I’ve always been into electronics,” says Page, 49. “Eventually I transitioned into meteorology and went to forecasting school. Offutt has the [Air Force Weather Agency] here, so it’s a job-rich environment.”

After ending his Air Force career as a major in 2014 after 26 years in the service, Page contemplated life as a civilian.

As he fielded several opportunities before accepting a position at Mutual of Omaha, Page discovered the reason transitions to the private sector run smoothly here: Omaha businesses need, actively recruit, and above all value veterans. 


“A better question is, why wouldn’t they want to hire a veteran?” observes Jeffrey Owens, vice president of Security Operations at First Data in Omaha and a Marine Corps veteran who enlisted during the Gulf War. “These young people trained, at a very young age, how to be leader[s], how to make decisions under high stress situations.”

The unemployment rate of post-9/11 veterans keeps trending down.  According to the latest numbers from the U.S. Labor Department, it stands at 3.3 percent nationwide. Still, many companies wonder why the number of employees with military experience isn’t higher, considering all the recruitment programs in place. 

The glitch may lie at the other end of the equation. 

“One of the scariest things for military people transitioning is there’s not a direct correlation of jobs [in the private sector],” says Page, echoing the thoughts of many veterans who may wonder, “Where do my skills fit in?” 

Page put his skills to the test in two war zones, Afghanistan and Iraq. During the Iraqi invasion in 2003, his weather detachment forecasted a monster three-day sandstorm, putting Army leaders in a position to keep their troops safe and hunkered down. 

“Even though I was a weather officer, I had a lot of experience in computer programming,” says Page, who lives in Bellevue with his wife and two children. “Military people, especially Air Force people, are wired to adapt quickly as we move from job to job. We show initiative.”

Owens, who also spent 14 years as a detective with the Atlanta Police Department, can’t speak highly enough of the qualities he observes every day in his employees. ”All the veterans I’ve had the opportunity to manage have exhibited loyalty, hard work, and they have a history and tradition built into them. Why wouldn’t you want those assets?”

Along with a lack of a business network, self-marketing may be a problem with many veterans. Military service focuses on the collective, making it difficult for a veteran to distinguish him-or-herself from the group, which is often an essential part of interviewing.

But that emphasis on the collective means many former service members will appreciate company values, missions, and visions.

First Data, founded in Omaha 47 years ago and now the world’s largest payment processor, reaches out to veterans through its First Data Salutes program. The company offers career opportunities and education resources for military personnel and their spouses; provides point-of-sale and business application technology free of charge to veteran-owned small businesses; and, like many local businesses, grants flex time to members of the National Guard or Reserves.

“What the company says to them is, ‘Hey, your job will be here when you get back.’ That gives them comfort and security while they’re [deployed],” says Owens.

First Data’s efforts on behalf of veterans, who made up 14.4 percent of the company’s Omaha hires last year, have won accolades. Military Times magazine has ranked the company No. 1 on its annual “Best for Vets: Employers” list the past two years, an honor “that cannot be bought, only earned,” according to the magazine’s editor. The rigorous survey, sent to 2,300 companies nationwide, contains 90 questions that companies must fill out and return. 

Page’s computer and leadership abilities caught the interest of Mutual of Omaha when the company hosted meet-up groups of software developers. Since joining the insurance company four years ago, he has thrived as an information systems manager. 

He has also positioned himself as a trusted adviser for Mutual’s military initiative, the Veterans Employee Resource Board. The group, in conjunction with the HR department, provides mentoring and assistance to people coming out of the service. Quarterly meetings focus on developing business knowledge and honing leadership skills. Members join their fellow Mutual employees in volunteering for community projects several times a year.

Page and other VERB members offer a bridge of understanding when it comes to the language of a veteran recruit’s skill set. 

“We also work with managers to help them decipher resumes,” Page points out. “What military people put on a resume is different from a civilian’s resume. I help interpret.”

Page realizes a lack of connections forms the biggest roadblock to people exiting the military. “I tell people to start networking, start visiting companies before they leave the service. Companies love talking to military men and women.”

Here in the Midlands, that’s sound advice.

Visit firstdata.com or mutualofomaha.com for more information.

This article was printed in the October/November 2018 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Jeffrey Owens

Red Tape, Red Flags

May 1, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“People need to understand [H-1B] is particularly vital for small states like ours where we’ve got low unemployment and a high need for STEM jobs,” says Amy Peck, an immigration attorney with Jackson Lewis, P.C.

One recent search on the popular monster.com job searching database revealed more than 30 software development jobs in Omaha posted within one month—jobs for a field where the overall unemployment rate is 1.6 percent.

That’s why many in IT or other STEM-related fields paid attention when, in July 2017, President Donald Trump signed the “Buy American-Hire American” executive order, which subjects already hard-to-obtain work visas to even greater scrutiny.

This was a blow to those employers recruiting skilled labor on H-1B visas. The visa allows for 65,000 employees to be hired from abroad and 20,000 to be hired from students enrolled in U.S. colleges (under the H-1B advanced degree exemption). More than 200,000 applications are expected for H-1B visas in 2018.The application process opens on April 3, and, if the trend continues as it has in the past several years, applications will only be accepted for five to seven days.

Unlike hiring an employee from the United States, when the start date is often two weeks from the acceptance of a job offer, the earliest an H-1 B-status employee could begin work is Oct. 1…if the application is accepted.

Fortunately, there are plenty of folks who can help navigate the legal system. On behalf of clients, Peck fields increasing government reviewer challenges.

One of the biggest impacts this executive order may make is that employees seeking an extension to an H-1B visa will now face the same scrutiny they faced to obtain the visa.

“When we file extensions on cases that got approved without challenge before, they now get challenged even though the facts have not changed,” Peck says.

That means an employee on an H-1B visa who has worked hard, innovated, and generated income for a company could be denied an extension and the company could lose an employee for no reason other than checking the wrong box
on the paperwork.

Each denied visa extension would cost a company a skilled, trained worker, filing fees, lawyer fees, and much more.

“This change is very disturbing to employers who want to keep a good employee but fear they may lose them during the extension process,” says Omaha immigration attorney Mark Curley. “Foreign workers feel less secure in their employment. They understand their H-1B extensions could be denied.

“Employers could lose a good employee after three years if [U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services] re-adjudicates the petition and determines the occupation or employee do not meet H-1B requirements…There is already a backlog in the employment-based green card process for applicants from India and China working high IT-related jobs in Omaha.”

“The H-1B is a specialty occupation visa with very specific requirements,” Peck says. “The job must require at least a bachelor’s degree in a specific field or related field. The government has certain wage levels you’re required to pay. A very sophisticated analysis goes into that.

“So, this is not something employers are eager to do. Often, it can be the last resort because they can’t get U.S. workers to do the job. As an economy we rely on this visa category in ways many people don’t want to admit and would like to deny.”

Vetting is done by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services center officers. Requests for evidence usually challenge specialty occupation designations.

“We spend a lot of time and effort with employers to describe what the job is,” Peck says. “We cross reference that with the government database. Then we look within the company sponsoring the H-1B to determine if others in that job have a similar degree and we use that to support our submission. The vast majority of our cases are getting approved, but we’re having to really fight. It’s taking all of our skills, tools, and resources to maneuver successfully in this environment.”

First Data is among several Nebraska employers using H-1B visas due to a shortage of skilled U.S.-born workers.

“There’s a myth employers are undercutting the U.S. labor market by hiring H-1Bs, and it really isn’t the case because with H-1B labor there is a cost involved not present with a U.S. worker,” Peck says. “The filing fee alone if you’re an employer with 25 or more employees is $2,460. If you want your case expedited you add another $1,225—and then attorney fees on top of that.”

Pending federal legislation aims to further scrutinize H-1B visas.

“The practical effect will be fewer petitions filed,” Curley says. “It will decrease the number of foreign students who enroll in U.S. colleges and universities.”

One thing is certain. H-1Bs are a hot item—as a topic of business and political discussion.

Amy Peck

This article was printed in the April/May 2018 edition of B2B.