Local Investments in Workforce Development Yield Local Rewards

As published in the Las Cruces Bulletin

There is no issue more important to our county’s economic wellbeing than that of workforce development. It’s an intricate and all-encompassing issue that almost all communities talk about it, but few have been able to wrap their arms around. 

Not so, in Dona Ana County, thanks to the precedent-setting work of the Workforce Talent Collaborative and The Bridge of Southern New Mexico. 

Workforce development (a.k.a. building and equipping talented people) drives of the economic future of any region. And recent studies have demonstrated why what we are doing here is more critical than ever.

The Fordham Institute recently released a report, How Aligned is Career and Technical Education to Local Labor Markets?which highlights the importance of Career and Technical Education – the foundation of our workforce development pathways. 

In the report, they referenced a story in the New York Times titled, The Typical American Lives Only 18 Miles from Mom, which found that 80% of all Americans live within a couple hours’ drive time from their parents, or 18 miles on average (44 miles in New Mexico). So those who grow up here, go to school here, and graduate here are more likely than ever before to live here or nearby for the rest of their lives. 

The Fordham report found that if CTE courses were linked to local employment, students were more likely to take them. But oddly, the higher the wages offered, the less likely students were to take those courses. So we must be extra intentional about prioritizing our eight highest-paying industries in order to unleash the greatest economic benefits for our students and the community at large:

  • Healthcare
  • Aerospace
  • Defense
  • Energy
  • Value-Added Agriculture
  • Advanced Manufacturing
  • Transportation & Logistics
  • Digital Media

New Mexico has CTE career clusters (paths that begin in high school and carry-on into community college and university) in each of these areas. Maximizing student participation, including out-of-school young adults, low-skilled workers and those who simply want to improve their earning power, will generate local economic returns. 

We also need to increase the college completion rates of all students, and especially our Hispanic students, who attained a record-high 73.1% high school graduation rate statewide for the class of 2017-2018. 

According to Excellencia in Education’s report on Latinos in Higher Education, only 65% of Latinos who start a college degree will complete either a two-year or four-year degree, most working while going to school and lengthening time to completion. The report states that Latinos have a higher workforce participation rate than any other group (66 percent) but are over-represented in low-paying jobs and under-represented in the highest-paying occupations. We can change that here.

Dual credit courses, which propel students to college finish lines faster and for less money, are critical to college success for all students, and especially Latino students who comprise the largest percentage of dual credit students in the state (48%). 

We’ve made an unprecedented case for support for proper funding and alignment of these courses to both reduce student loan debt and increase income for those who graduate college at any level. Quicker entry into the workforce as higher-skilled, higher-paid talent pays the state back for its investment, while also reducing the burden on the Lottery Scholarship Fund.

Why does all of this matter? We desperately need a vibrant, thriving, and growing private sector fueled by a holistic and well-prepared workforce to generate a cascade of benefits:

  • Employment and entrepreneurship for economic well-being for employees and business owners. 
  • Increased income and revenues will boost the tax base and increase dollars spent in the local economy.
  • Greater business and payroll taxes support the public sector – among the most important of which is education – K-12 and college and university. 
  • The better prepared the talent, the better our businesses’ futures. Existing businesses rely on qualified workers to sustain and grow their businesses. 
  • Economic development needs this talent to make the case for bringing new employers here. The better the education systems are aligned to real careers in well-paid industries, the more opportunity our talented people will have for well-paid jobs that provide for their families, themselves becoming the economic engines of community prosperity, as referenced in the Fordham study.

Bottom line: The more our talent (New Mexico’s True Talent) grows in skills and in incomes, the greater reduction we see in a host of issues tied to poverty and the more benefits our children, our families and our community will reap for years to come.

Learn more at thebridgeofsnm.org or by checking out NewMexicoTrueTalent.org.