As published in the Las Cruces Sun-News, November 4, 2018
With the election season coming to a climactic close tomorrow, no matter who wins or loses in local, state, and federal races, there’s one thing that everyone agrees on…workforce development is critical.
We simply need to do all we can to connect our people with the skills and qualifications they need for careers that can drive forward their economic wellbeing, along with that of our communities and our nation.
The perfect example is the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V), which passed UNANIMOUSLY in both the US House and Senate and was later signed into law by President Trump on July 31.
Perkins V pumps $1.229 billion in Fiscal Year 2019 (with a gradual increase each year to $1.318 billion by FY 2024) into schools and colleges to bridge this gaping divide between education and employability through Career and Technical Education programs. These are the courses available in high school and community colleges (and now even reaching into middle school) that provide students hands-on, career-focused education in industries that desperately need them, like digital media, engineering, healthcare, aerospace, drafting, welding, electronics, construction, water, criminal justice, and education.
Our young people have incredible opportunities just waiting for them to get these valuable skills that can propel them straight into work, entrepreneurship, fund them along the way to a higher degree.
Abbey Seward and Evelyn Sandoval are just two of our community’s young people who took advantage of welding and audio/visual CTE courses in high school, respectively. Abbey earned a welding degree from DACC and now works at White Sands Test Facility while pursuing a further degree in business. Evelyn is working toward her bachelor’s degree while also working for KRWG as a producer for NMSU sports events on AggieVision, directs for News 22 and delivers the weather broadcast on Noticias 22.
These are just two success stories from CTE programs taking place across the schools in our county. And historically, graduation rates for students in CTE programs far outpace non-CTE students.
At the state level, both gubernatorial candidates have voiced support for programs that connect education and employment, calling for efforts that bring more career focus into high school, including CTE programs, as well as expanding internship and apprenticeship programs and strengthening the role of community colleges in filling workforce gaps.
How those initiatives will take shape in a new administration will flesh out over the next few months, but already there are some tools in place at the state level upon which they can build:
- The Department of Workforce Solutions has a free, online career exploration tool that connects skill and interest assessments with careers that need them: www.nmcareersolutions.com.
- The Department of Public Education just unveiled a unique cross-connection that ties school districts to local labor market information through the Pathways2Careers site at www.careerpathways-nm.com
- The New Mexico Higher Education Department launched the “Route to 66” initiative, which sets a goal of having 66 percent of New Mexico’s residents hold some type of college certificate or degree by 2030. For us in Dona Ana County, that would mean 20,100 more people complete some level of college certificate or degree. To reach this goal, we need to ensure we continue to increase high school and college completion rates for young people, as well as encourage adults without degrees to obtain a college credential or degree.
Increasing the earning potential of our people by connecting education and employment will unlock opportunity and spark greater economic development for our state.
We have the tools. We have the programs and the resources. And thankfully, we have the political will to change the future for individuals, families, and communities.
Let’s work together on workforce development to build the bright future for New Mexico that we can all agree on!