[Editor's Note: This is written from a recording, thanks to Kim Clark, Grant County Association of Realtors.]

By Mary Alice Murphy

The theme of the event, which drew participants from all over southwest New Mexico, was Building New Mexico's Next Generation of Workforce Talent, with Career and Technical Education (CTE) as the focus. Included in the attendance were representatives from throughout the region, in education at all levels, business and industry, governmental entities and non-profits. The participants were divided into groups by table.

The morning consisted of an overview of the program and what would be expected of the participants in the afternoon session, as they did a comprehensive local needs assessment.

The first speaker/facilitator was Tracey Bryan, The Bridge of Southern New Mexico president and chief executive officer out of Las Cruces. Two representatives of NS4ed, which partners with state and local entities to provide research, policy and practice deliverables at the intersection of education and industry, President Joseph Goins and Labor Market Analyst Trevor Stokes, also spoke.

Bryan said the session was the first of four conversations with people of sectors represented in the room. "We are your neighbor. The Bridge was a Doña Ana County initiative that began 13 years ago, because half of our high school students were not finishing, and they weren't being trained for jobs. The business community, in partnership with schools and the government, did a survey that changed everything. We now have the highest graduation rate in the state. We are in partnership with PED (Public Education Department) and the federal government on career education, the Perkins Bill. Everyone in the community agrees that technical education is important. People are the greatest resource. We activate them to have conversations."

Stokes said he is a consultant to PED, out of Phoenix, Arizona. "A lot of what I do is labor analysis. I will share some of the key findings from this community, and how we can make education relevant."

Goins said he has been doing this sort of work for 25 years and has been partnering with PED for four years, doing work force readiness.

Bryan noted that education, work force and businesses have different sets of terms. "We want to make sure the conversation is at the lay level. If you don't understand something, stick your hand up and get it resolved."

Steve Chavira, Silver City-Grant County Chamber of Commerce director and manager of the Grant County Veterans Memorial Business and Conference Center, welcomed everyone. "On behalf of Curtis Clough (Silver Consolidated Schools associate superintendent), who set up this meeting, let's remember to be respectful of one another. I look forward to the conversation."

Every participant in the room introduced himself or herself.

Bryan said CTE is actually STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) career tech.

Goins said STEM positions are always the highest wage jobs and 50 percent of them require less than a four-year degree. "Apple and IBM, for instance, will take those with less than a degree, because they will have to train them anyway. At the speed and rate technology is changing, a degree can hinder a person. My son is an 18-year-old, about to graduate from high school, who raised $5,000 in a week by flying his drone and taking photos of houses for realtors. I had said I would match what he could raise to buy a car. He did it in a week while I was out of town."

"There is a misalignment of what a person needs to get a good job," Goins continued. "We have in this country $1.7 billion in student loans and most of those loans belong to those who are 40 percent underemployed. There is a big return on investment for early college high school—70-1. 94 percent of high school students graduate with CTE courses. Only 71 percent of traditional students graduate high school. We surveyed folks about whether to spend $500,000 on drop out prevention. 81 percent said the money should be spent on career tech. The least effective expenditure would be on college prep. The school counselor told my son to drop data and statistics and take pre-calculus. That's a misalignment. Tell me a job that requires pre-calc. Tell me a job that doesn't require data and statistics. I told my son to stay in data and statistics."

Goins asked: "How do we give students choice and purpose? Technical or associate of applied science degrees out-earn bachelor degrees by $2,000 to $11,000; 27 percent of those with licenses or certificates, earn more than bachelor degree holder; 48 percent of CTE concentrators earn credentials or diplomas; 68 percent are employed, in military service or apprenticeships within six months of graduation.

Of the 49 percent of low-income families that have no post-secondary experience, 34 percent get associate degrees in six years; 45 percent get bachelor degrees in six years, with 66 percent of high school students being in CTE, and 54 percent of all college students enrolled in CTE, with 32 percent as CTE concentrators. Eighty percent of Americans live within a couple of hours driving distance of their parents. If communities align their resources and create opportunities, their students will stay nearby. What can we do with CTE? Robotics, drones, for instance. One team from an area with 26 percent unemployment raced their drones and won the top prize in a national competition. If you are not familiar with them, these are 16 career clusters that include 79 pathways."

They include agriculture, food and natural resources; architecture and construction; arts, audio/video technology and communications; business management and administration; education and training; finance; government and public administration; health science; hospitality and tourism; human services; information technology; law, public safety, corrections and security; manufacturing; marketing sales and service; science technology, engineering and mathematics; and transportation, distribution and logistics.

Goins expanded by saying: "For example, in health science, we find at least five pathways."

Bryan said the project for the afternoon would involve the participants identifying what the priority needs are in the region. "In Las Cruces, we brought a broader group of partners together that could set targets, but they couldn't accomplish them. The Bridge started everything we did. Please steal what we did and use it."

"When Richard Branson goes up and comes back down to Earth in one piece, that will change everything in our region," Bryan said. "It will increase aerospace, space and defense opportunities."

Career pathways offered all the assets, but the groups, before The Bridge didn't always work together, she said. Workforce Solutions has counselors that can help those who face barriers.

"It is powerful for employers to be training their employees in the workplace," Bryan said. "The option can include student internships, summer and part-time jobs for high schoolers, and paid internships and co-ops, as well as part-time jobs for college students. Together they provide career opportunities in the trades going from clerks to career certifications, associate degrees and bachelor's degrees, and can include starting their own businesses."

She said the question always arises to who will provide the funding. Federal Perkins funding of $173,480 is available for any school district each school year. "You have to have it in the context of what you need."

Region G, which is where all the participants in this group come from includes a number of school districts and charter schools. They are Animas, Cobre Consolidated, Deming, Lordsburg Municipal, Magdalena Municipal, Quemado Independent, Reserve Independent, Silver Consolidated, Socorro Consolidated, Truth or Consequences Municipal and state charter school Aldo Leopold. It also includes two colleges, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology and Western New Mexico University.

Stokes said he moved from east Tennessee to Phoenix and became a member of the Arizona governor's office of economic opportunity. "I have done some analysis about your area. I make a living using numbers. I’m also a member of the National Storytelling Association. The numbers are designed to provide your story. I'm trying to find a place for you to start your conversations, and I want to hear from you how education can become a more critical player in the economic success of your region. I call it the 'educonomy.' We want to align education, so it is an engine of economic success, not a by-product of it."

"We will present the key findings, then we will let you discuss them and come back to us after lunch," Stokes said, "so we can create a path forward."

He presented the key findings, including what the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions sees as the growth in certain industries over the state, but aggregated for this region, such as a 20 percent increase in healthcare and social assistance, 15 percent increase in mining, an 11 percent increase in professional, scientific and technical assistance, a 5 percent increase in construction, a 5 percent increase in educational services and a 5 percent increase in transportation and warehousing.

"The reason I'm so passionate about the concept of looking at the labor market and providing career literacy for our student, as well as a data-driven policy and administration, is that I spoke at a high school in Phoenix," Stokes said. "The school gave me a blank slate of 70 minutes to speak to a group of high school juniors and seniors. I don't do cool, but I had to come up with something compelling. I did a start-up presentation, with the earnings potential and took questions. I got an email from the teacher that said: 'I've never seen my kids so excited. They have been flocking to the counselors because they want to figure out how to go to college.' I hadn't talked about college and the world of careers. By the way, it was Adobe Mountain High School, which is run by the juvenile probation office with their kids. I made it relevant to them."

He presented a slide of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's target sectors to diversify the New Mexico economy. They include cybersecurity, intelligent manufacturing, sustainable and green industries, bioscience and health, tourism and outdoor industries, digital media and film, sustainable and value-added agriculture and aerospace.

His next slide listed the sectors with the highest employment in Region G. They range from the highest being in government (primarily education) with about 9,000 people, next to health care and social assistance with about 4,000, through retail trade at about 3,000, to accommodation and food services at about 2,700, mining, quarrying and oil and gas extractions at about 1,500, manufacturing at a bit over 1,000, construction, a bit under 1,000, professional, scientific and technical services about 500 and finance and insurance at about 400.

The next several slides he presented showed the numbers of 2019 jobs in the various sections with their average wages ranging from a high of $79,000 for a job in the mining, quarrying and oil and gas extraction sector for copper, nickel, lead and zinc mining down to $15,500 for a job in the health care and social assistance sector in home health care services.

The occupation families with the largest projected growth from highest to lowest include personal care and service occupations; farming, forestry and fishing; health care practitioners and technical occupations; installation, maintenance and repair; health care support; and management. Stokes noted that of the 10 largest growth occupations, 7 of the 10 have the lowest wages, with the exceptions being RNs, secretaries and administrative assistants, as well as general and operations managers.

A slide asked: What are businesses telling us? The question: Do you have difficulty finding well-qualified employees for the majority of your jobs, brought a graph with a resounding yes, showing about 10 percent at no. What jobs levels are hardest to fill in your community came out with the majority at the high-skilled level, about a third at the middle-skilled level and about 12 percent at low-skilled.

Another chart asked the businesses to choose the primary reasons for struggles in filling open positions. They ranged from the highest at can't find individuals with the necessary skills and the least at overqualified. Other limiting factors with higher barriers were limited work experience, lack of sufficient training, salary not enough to attract talent, don't want to live in the local area, interest in the types of jobs is low, competition from other employers, don't meet legal requirements and/or can't pass a drug test, and don't have the needed degrees or certificates.

Stokes noted that there is no single correct way to look at every labor market. He noted that he looked at demographics and broke down the area by age. "Your population has declined, except for one—the 65 and older, which had a 15 percent increase."

"This is how we organize components for educational opportunities to build the CTE strategy," Stokes said. "What we hope to do with the reports is give perspective for what we want to discuss. We need to talk about what was surprising or unexpected. Look at what the labor market tells us and have conversations after we eat."

The representatives worked through lunch and had assignments to complete while eating.

When Bryan asked what the most surprising thing they had heard was, the increase in the older population was the first thing mentioned.

The tables chose what one, two, maybe three industries they thought would be best to focus on.

After discussions, Bryan warned that although health care had a large potential, it is a challenge to find the educational capacity to teach and train these providers, as "you can make more as a nurse at a hospital than in teaching them to be nurses. And there are only so many clinical sites that can be used for training. Definitely shoot broad, because there are shortages, not only in direct nursing, but also in tech positions within the hospital."

"Understanding you have a pot of money, where do you think the best investments will be in this area?" Bryan asked.

A participant asked if the ultimate goal is to keep the students locally or train them to go anywhere in the world.

Bryan said the data said shows that most people live near their families.

A man pointed out that most opportunities in the area are among the lowest paid jobs.

A woman said that this generation will determine what jobs are available in the future, but they have to learn the skills first. "How do we rebuild our educational system to be forward-thinking?"

Bryan said that a large construction firm said it doesn't need someone to pound hammer and nails, but someone to do CAD design ahead of the project.

"We have to raise our kids and educate them to be citizens," a man said, "so they know they are part of the community and have to work to make it better. It comes down to that saying: 'No matter where you go, there you are.' If you stay in your community and you find it your responsibility to uplift everyone else, to be an entrepreneur and hire people, that's what we need."

Goins said in one community, they asked the students what the community needed, and they brought people together to build 60 tiny houses to take care of the housing problem. "The students know what's going on. Sometimes we can find the social capital within our students to do what needs to be done."

"Do you want to focus on healthcare?" Bryan asked. "How many want to stick with two or stretch to three target industries? The threes have it."

A man from Lordsburg said the new high school built by state plans, took out the shop, the nursing area, but left the automotive area.

Clough said the region is so large that each subdivision has different needs.

Bryan said the state got a waiver for who gets the Perkins money. "This area is ripe for pooled participation. We will leave today at a cliff-hanger. We will leave with vision and the target industries. We will not leave with our opportunities to pursue moving forward. Susan will work with your leaders to determine what it is like to be a partner, then how it will move forward will be developed. If everyone is in agreement to closing the gap between industry and education, please contact the coaches to make sure the group gets the funding and maybe more that can be aligned with your plans."

Lucero said the Co.Starters program has started (but stalled during the stay at home and the closing of large groups meeting due to COVID-19) that focuses on entrepreneurship.

Attached is the final document of the March 9 Region G Consortia meeting outcomes:

Can't see this document? Click this link to view it in a new window

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