As published in the Las Cruces Sun-News
Just how much do we invest in workforce development in New Mexico, and how do we get the most bang for our buck?
That’s a question I left Washington, D.C. with after attending the US Chamber of Commerce’s Talent Forward Summit, which focused on some best practices in talent development, a.k.a. workforce development, from across the country.
Coming into state government out of the world of business, Kentucky’s Secretary for Economic Development, Terry Gill, spoke about his state’s journey to first understand, and then maximize, workforce investments in the context of economic development. He characterized the challenge that lies before a state as “an arms race for talent.”
He began by trying to understand just how much money, and through whom, the state was investing in developing its current and future workforce. He identified a complex network of partners and programs (public and higher education, labor, health, economic development) that are “in the business” of workforce development and were collectively responsible for $1.2 billion in programs and resources. However, he also discovered there was a lack of coordination between the partners and, much like New Mexico, were trying to meet very different workforce needs in various parts of the state.
If you are at all familiar with the work of The Bridge of Southern New Mexico and the Workforce Talent Collaborative, you’ll probably find that the solutions Kentucky advanced sound a whole lot like what you’re hearing is underway here:
· Realign the education system to meet the needs of business
· Engage businesses to define their current/future needs
· Empower communities to design their own solutions
· Increase the workforce pipeline to accommodate growth
New Mexico just passed its largest state budget ever – $7.1 billion. Fully 66% of that budget ($4.66 billion) is invested in some portion of our full workforce development continuum – Public and Higher Education, Workforce Solutions, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation – in addition to other investments made through economic development, childcare assistance and other programs.
Like Kentucky, the closer we tie these investments to the real workforce needs of business and industry, the more we place our youth, young adults, under-employed, unemployed, low-
skilled, and low-income members of our community in the greatest possible position to be economically thriving and strong.
Governor Michelle Lujan-Grisham has prioritized eight sectors her administration views as pivotal to New Mexico’s future, seven of which overlap with Doña Ana County’s eight target industries that chart the course to our own economic revival:
· Cybersecurity (overlap with Defense)
· Intelligent Manufacturing (same as Advanced Manufacturing)
· Bioscience and Health (overlap with Healthcare)
· Tourism and Outdoor Industries
· Digital Media and Film
· Sustainable Agriculture and Value-Added Agriculture
· Sustainable and Green Industries (overlap with Energy)
For those of us in the Southwestern Area Workforce Development Board’s region, there are critical shortages in several of these industries. But, unlike many communities, we have pretty much everything our people need to put themselves in a position to be well qualified for these jobs. In the March Quarterly Labor Market Report published by the New Mexico Public Education Department, identified some of the most significant shortages were in:
· Engineering Technologies and Related Fields
· Transportation & Logistics
· Computer and Information Sciences
· Construction Trades
To maximize the impact of our piece of the state’s collective budget pie, we must now connect the dots between education and employment – information and application aligned to work and earning opportunity.
Doña Ana County is poised to embark upon yet another precedent-setting effort in the state – turning employer and industry voice and very real workforce needs into a call to action for our workforce development continuum and a well-connected pipeline of skilled and ready talent – New Mexico True Talent.
When these state dollars to fruition in the economic empowerment of our people, that’s when we will reap the greatest returns on our state’s investment.