Every year, the Domenici Public Policy Conference brings thought leaders from across the country to discuss the role of policy in addressing the most pressing issues we face in our national discourse.
This year, the passing of New Mexico’s legendary Senator Pete V. Domenici at the start of the conference brought a somber tone to the event, and yet what a perfect way to honor this great man and role model for other young New Mexicans, like the students who take center stage during the two-day event. His legacy is one of aspiration for what is possible when you grow up in New Mexico.
This year, a great portion of the conference was on the future of youth and how we can better prepare them to become the talented, highly-skilled global workforce that can, very literally, build the future of this state.
Thanks to the vision and collaboration of the Workforce Talent Collaborative and Community of Progress convened by The Bridge of Southern New Mexico over the past year, we also heard that we are absolutely on the right track in Doña Ana County. The first-of-its-kind Workforce Talent Development plan that is nearing completion has established a high benchmark for New Mexico, weaving together the assets we already have to build the future we all want.
As the connected and critical subjects of workforce development and equity in education were discussed by Amazon Web Services Senior Manager Ken Eisner, education advocate and University of California-Los Angeles Distinguished Professor Dr. Pedro Noguero, former US Surgeon General Dr. Antonia Novello, New Mexico Secretary of Workforce Solutions Celina Bussey, and former Acting US Secretary of Labor Seth Harris, those of us who were part of the developing the plan were thrilled to hear these great leaders confirm that their recommended solutions match ours precisely.
They spoke passionately about the connections between poverty and education, work-based learning and business’ leadership in participation in closing the “soft skills” gap, prioritizing professional development for teachers, and the challenge that lies before our youth who must somehow get ready for jobs that exist today, as well as ones that we can’t yet see.
To unleash the promise, potential, and future prosperity of our community, we must rally ourselves around several key priorities discussed by our speakers:
- The non-negotiable importance of education as the number-one solution to alleviating poverty
- Career pathways to high-wage industries that have career ladders and the ability to move successfully to other careers
- Career and technical education that spans high school to community college (grades 9 to 14) and uses dual credit classes to advance high school students into their college careers
- Business leadership as partners in education through project-based learning, as well as a clear call-out to support professional development for teachers
- More clarity around necessary “soft skills,” which Eisner better called “leadership skills:” critical thinking, problem solving, communication, the ability to live with ambiguity
- The importance of internships and apprenticeships
- Prioritizing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) skills in preparing for the higher-paying and yet hard-to-fill tech jobs
- Project Lead the Way as a model for building STEM proficiency and the kind of thinking that fuels a cloud-enabled workforce
- Two-generation approaches that help students and their parents simultaneously
- Empowering parents as partners in education
- Shifting our focus to opportunities rather than outcomes
- Weaving support for families together through community schools
- The need to target federal and state workforce investments to help Opportunity Youth (those 16-24 who are not in school nor working) where they are, rather than expecting them to come to a college campus
- Preventing the exodus of our educated young people (“brain drain”) by building jobs here that offer opportunity, advancement and a good quality of life
Indeed, this year perhaps more than any other, Senator Domenici was the inspiration and impetus for us, as New Mexicans, to “think big,” about our future. It’s time to shift our thinking toward the opportunities so readily in our grasp, remove the barriers that have stifled our trajectory, and build the New Mexico that keeps our young people here – because they are the ones very literally building our future.
Just like a kid from Albuquerque once did. Thank you, Senator, for inspiring us all.