Originally published in the Las Cruces Sun-News on Monday, Sept. 2, 2019
Significant, meaningful change takes time and is frequently imperceptible in the moment. But if it’s done well, the results of change emerge gradually in the short term, but consistently over the long term.
That’s especially true for workforce development – one of the toughest issues communities across the country are grappling with.
The Bridge of Southern New Mexico and the ever-growing membership of the Workforce Talent Collaborative have laser focused on this issue since 2016. We have been working to build literal “bridges” between our youth, young adults, families, and low-skilled, unemployed, and underemployed workers and the abundance of workforce readiness resources in our community to prepare them for the employers who desperately need them.
Together, we pioneered career pathways toward real jobs in our community. They begin with career and technical education in high school and pave the way toward high-value career certifications, two- and four-year degrees.
We mapped on- and off-ramps through the Workforce Connection system for our out-of-school and out-of-work youth and adults who face barriers to employment. When this system becomes high performing, more of those who need help can access their abundance of resources to become economically stronger and self-sufficient.
Success for these pathways rides on employers in eight key industries playing active roles in developing their workforce through the five “ships” of work-based learning: leadership, mentorship, internships, apprenticeships, and externships for teachers.
Now that these pathways are in place, our people, New Mexico’s True Talent, have a roadmap to career destinations in local businesses and industries vital to our economy and their economic future: healthcare, aerospace, defense, value-added agriculture, digital media, energy, advanced manufacturing, and transportation & logistics.
Simultaneously, these pathways grow into flowing pipelines of well-qualified talent essential for the health and wellbeing of our businesses. We want our employers to have New Mexico’s best and brightest talent. We want our community’s economic developers to have deep pools of talent and responsive, agile education and workforce resources to can brag about when they invite new employers to come here.
Dramatic change is underway. New partnerships, new relationships, new opportunities, new and stronger programs, and greater access to information have all come about as a direct result of the dedicated work of these leaders and committed partners.
So where can we look to see the impact of change today? We have to go a bit further back. The foundation of a skilled and ready workforce lies in well-educated workers, which is where The Bridge began its work in 2007 to address the county’s less than 50% high school graduation rate. If kids aren’t finishing high school, it hinders a community’s ability to have a skilled and ready workforce, and those young people inadvertently choose to handicap their earning potential for a lifetime.
To date, 8,351 more high school students have graduated, thanks to the meteoric rise in rates to now a state-high 81 percent countywide. And, since 2010, Dona Ana County has seen a 4.4 percent rise in those who hold an associate degree or higher, or 7,761 people.
Those academic outcomes translate to economic impact. Collectively, those high school graduates increased their annual earning power by $128 million. College completers, as a group, have increased their annual earning power on average by about $100 million.
So, as more and more have the academic credentials for success, they become ready for the abundance of opportunity right here in our community! Yes, there are jobs here, and roughly one in five are in our target industries.
Harnessing the power of our “ecosystem of opportunity,” we will experience the gradual, but consistent results of community change. Then our children, our families, and all of us will experience the benefits of community economic prosperity for years to come.