Originally published in the Las Cruces Sun-News on Monday, December 2, 2019
When it comes to workforce, an “ecosystem of opportunity” exists when supply meets demand. Supply of people with the right knowledge, skills, and abilities ready to step into the growing set of technical-, middle-, and high-skilled careers that employers in our community have right now and will have for years to come.
Employers like the world’s first commercial “spaceline” about to launch with Virgin Galactic and Spaceport America, opening doors of opportunity that simply don’t exist anywhere else. The nation’s defense rides upon the testing and evaluation work that takes place at White Sands Missile Range, the largest military installation in the country. NASA’s “road to Mars” goes through the testing efforts underway at White Sands Test Facility. Healthcare is our largest, best-paying, fastest-growing industry, and statewide, we are experiencing huge shortages of people. The fifth largest port on the US/Mexico Border is in our county, accounting for more than $22 billion in imports/exports each year. The New Mexico Film Industry is growing by leaps and bounds, and our community has a full pipeline from high school to community college and university in all aspects of digital media and film. Sustainable and value-added agriculture and the burgeoning renewable energy and traditional energy fields are growing as well, with New Mexico State University being designated by Governor Michelle Lujan-Grisham as a Center of Excellence in Sustainable Agriculture.
White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) is just one example where demand is larger than supply. The unique mission of the range requires a far larger skill set than most people think – not just engineers, but healthcare professionals, astronomists, those with a business background, and far more different specialties than my word limit allows. In December, more than 30 people are retiring from the range’s workforce, which is primarily comprised of those who’ve been a part of WSMR’s mission for decades.
Maximizing the connections across the ecosystem is the work of The Bridge of Southern New Mexico and our mission-aligned Workforce Talent Collaborative. We now have a pretty clear picture of each component in our ecosystem and how they need to relate to one another.
Success rides on well-mapped career pathways that optimize workforce programs and investments (Federal Perkins V for Career and Technical Education and Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act for Workforce Connections, as well as state funding for public and higher education) for those they are intended to serve. Our eight career pathways have presented others from across the country with a replicable model. The pathways are rooted in CTE, driven by dual credit, and aligned to middle- and high-skilled careers with career progression in industries targeted by economic development. Everything we do is in support of these elements.
We are at the beginning of the next step of our work, partnering with the Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce to capture and clarify business voice in workforce needs, hard to fill jobs, and identification of skill gaps. We will convene industry-specific roundtables in Aerospace, Space, and Defense and Healthcare and deploy a business survey tool never before used in the state. Ultimately, it is the mechanism of mobilizing deeper engagement of employers with educators in their respective pathways through the five “ships” of work-based learning, including leadership, mentorship, internship, apprenticeship, and externships for teachers.
We end 2019 leading the state in maximizing alignment in the supply side of our ecosystem. Moving into 2020, we will bring the demand side into active partnership with supply. Then, we will have the optimal connection between people and employment opportunities, fully unleashing the earning power of people and the economic potential of our community.
To learn more, visit NewMexicoTrueTalent.org.