Connecting Education, Employment, and Economic Development

Originally published in the Las Cruces Bulletin on Friday, February 21, 2019

A wave of change is taking place in New Mexico. This one actually begins after the legislative session. 

In regions across our state, business community members and economic developers are going to come alongside educators and other local stakeholders to discuss how to use investments in Career and Technical Education to economically strengthen students and generate the deep pools of workforce and entrepreneurial talent for our communities.

The Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V) is one of the federal funding streams that support education in our state. The long-awaited reauthorization put this funding stream on steroids for better connecting educational pathways to high value careers and industries at the local level.

Key to this change is where the funding decisions start – labor market information, business needs, and economic development targets. 

Doña Ana County will have more than $1 million to invest in the Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs of our three school districts and Doña Ana Community College. According to the Act, money is intended to be used for: 

  • Developing challenging academic and technical standards and to assist students in meeting those standards, including preparation for high skill, high wage, or in-demand occupations in current or emerging professions.
  • Promoting the development of services and activities that integrate rigorous and challenging academic and career and technical instruction, and that link secondary education and postsecondary education.
  • Increasing State and local flexibility in providing services and activities designed to develop, implement, and improve career and technical education.

In just in these three statements, Perkins V is a dream come true for the work we have been doing locally to create seamless pathways from high school to college to careers in the industries that help drive our economy, including:

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

Locally, we have close to 8,000 students in Career and Technical Education programs, and frankly, we need more. According to the Association of Career and Technical Education, high school students graduate at almost 20% higher rates than non-CTE students nationally. In fact, 81% of high school dropouts reported that relevant, real-world opportunities would have kept them in school.

The benefits of robust CTE programs start with students and then ripple out across the community. For businesses, CTE programs equip students with the elusive employability or “soft” skills employers desperately need. Our CTE programs also help fill the gaping holes in the middle-, technical-, and high-skilled jobs, hard-to-fill jobs, and jobs in demand in our region.

Well directed, we can expect significant returns on these investments over time. Other states have quantified some of those benefits, including $3.5 billion in Oklahoma and $5.1 billion in Colorado. Washington state realized a $26 return in lifetime high school student earnings on every $1 invested in CTE.

Our local labor market analysis revealed a set of high-quality careers locally tended to be in healthcare, office and administrative support, management (health, financial, education, computer information), business and financial operations, computer-related occupations, construction, and production. All jobs but one projected growth between now and 2026 and paid from $37,000 to $126,000. But the average wage was $62,748 – that’s almost $23,635 higher than our median wage of $39,114 and above the US median income of $61,937.

We can set our CTE students up for success by strengthening the connections between what happens in school and what they can be ready to do in the workplace in the industries vital to our economic growth and wellbeing. 

And that’s why we’ll be having this conversation in our own county on Tuesday, March 10, from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., at the Doña Ana Community College Workforce Center. Convened by the Mesilla Valley Economic Development Alliance, our excellent local CTE educators will meet with members of business and economic development, community members, local workforce board members, those who serve special populations, including those with disabilities and those who serve out-of-school, homeless, and at-risk youth. 

Together, we will map out how and where we could generate the most economic impact possible with these dollars – for students, employers, and the economy. 

It’s a great story to tell our students – there are great jobs right here! Almost 3,000 are posted today on our Workforce Connections site. We can prevent brain drain and simultaneously boost our economy with our precious New Mexico True Talent as the fuel of change. We look forward to great things ahead!