LFC Meetings Stress the Need for Strategic Workforce Development

As published in the Las Cruces Bulletin, October 16, 2021

Smart, strategic workforce development lies at the epicenter of New Mexico’s economic recovery. A vast majority of the unemployed are going to have to reskill or upskill to take on new jobs in industries that are here and will recover, because many pre-COVID jobs simply won’t be coming back.

This finding has been highlighted in two recent presentations made to the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee (LFC).

In October, New Mexico State University’s professor emeritus Dr. Jim Peach spoke to the LFC about the future of New Mexico’s economy in light of COVID-19 and declining Oil & Gas industry revenues. 

He pointed to a transformation on the horizon, as the state will move from high numbers of people employed in small businesses to greater reliance on larger corporations which have been more successful in riding out COVID. Peach indicated concern that there aren’t more of those corporations here.

He also talked about something that hasn’t gotten much attention. “New Mexico’s economy is being propped up by massive injections of federal funds,” Dr. Peach said.

Indeed, the CARES Act federal stimulus funds flowing into the state have artificially propped up the economy, as they were designed to do. He specifically discussed how the additional $600 unemployment benefit was a significant contributor to the state’s economy. 

We also don’t accurately know our true unemployment rate, as the work-search requirement for those on Unemployment Insurance was suspended until October 25, meaning some of the unemployed aren’t showing up in the count yet. As of August, the Las Cruces Metropolitan Statistical Area (which includes the rest of the county) stood at 10.9% (twice the rate pre-COVID). What we do know is that 9,907 were filing for unemployment benefits on October 5, down from a high of 13,327 mid-June. We should know the accurate rate in November.

Two of Dr. Peach’s suggested remedies for the state’s recovery included increased investments in education and workforce training. Exactly what The Bridge of Southern New Mexico and the Workforce Talent Collaborative have been advocating for all along.

Dr. Peach’s recommendations were echoed at the August LFC meeting in a Spotlight report from Dr. Sarah DInces of the LFC’s Program Evaluation Unit entitled, Workforce Development Post COVID-19 Pandemic that examines what New Mexico gets for the estimated $322 million it invests in workforce development.

The Spotlight reported 40% of the jobs lost are in three of the state’s largest private industries: accommodation and food service, retail trade, and healthcare and social assistance. Those most impacted were already in lower-wage jobs and under the age of 24. It also referenced a study by the University of Chicago study estimating 32% to 42% of lost jobs won’t return.

What did Dr. Dinces’s report recommend? “New Mexico needs to adopt and expand proven strategies to increase employment.” 

Some of the recommendations included:

  • Focusing on proven strategies and best practices
  • Focus on education and training for industries poised for recovery and growth.
  • Insisting on better outcomes from the local workforce boards and increasing transparency on outcomes and better return on investments. Dr. Dinces indicated that all four boards were failing on some of their outcome metrics.
  • Increase the connections between job seekers in the Workforce Connections system and colleges and universities, including offering advisement to students on in-demand employment information and better tailoring college programs to meet local workforce needs.
  • Diversifying and expanding apprenticeships into target industries.

We simply must do all that we can to encourage and help our neighbors displaced by COVID to reskill and upskill with skills-specific training and employer-valued career-related credentials and degrees. Reemployment will, in fact, drive recovery.

To find more on both reports, visit https://nmlegis.gov/Entity/LFC/Committee_Information.