Roswell educational and business leaders will work this summer to match high school graduates with local employers who need to develop a skilled workforce, a short-term step that is part of larger comprehensive plan to develop formal apprenticeships and vocational programs built around on-the-job training.
Meanwhile, Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell will award new scholarships to adult learners that also would fund academics and hands-on training for local jobs.
Roswell’s efforts to respond to workforce needs brought New Mexico Secretary of Workforce Solutions Bill McCamley to a recent meeting.
He attended the Thursday gathering with business managers, high school and college administrators, some elected officials and members of the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp. as they discussed employers’ needs for skilled workers and the population’s need for good jobs.
“The Governor (Michelle Lujan-Grisham) feels strongly that everyone in the state who wants to get a good job should be able to do so, and we are finding that many of the job openings that we have around the state don’t necessarily require a bachelor’s degree,” McCamley said. “So if there are ways we can work with local partners … in order to help people to get the skills needed so that they can make good money and employers can find the workers they need to succeed, it ends up being a win-win.”
A previous Oct. 10 Career Technical Education conference was coordinated by the Roswell Independent School District and the economic department. Several local employers talked about the difficulties finding qualified labor in such fields as auto mechanics, aircraft maintenance, plumbing and building trades.
“They need a lot of work applicants,” said Bud Kunkel, president of the Economic Development Corp. board of directors. “What do they have to do? Some of them have to pay premiums to bring someone in for the short-term.”
Other employers talked about turning down work or delaying growth opportunities due to worker shortages.
Kunkel said, rather than recruiting people from other cities, it makes more sense to identify local students who enjoy living in the area, educate them about the opportunities that exist with local industries and train them for the work.
RISD: Immediate, long-term steps needed
Godswill Barrah, the new director of secondary programs for the Roswell Independent School District, said he is talking daily with employers as he works to meet immediate needs and to plan long-term for both employers’ and students’ growth.
Barrah sees his work in terms of a larger vision, changing views of youth “as assets rather than problems to solve” and providing students with knowledge about how they can serve others.
“There’s a question that kids have been asking for as long as they’ve been in school, ‘Why am I doing this? Why am I learning this?’ What if the conversation goes beyond, ‘So you can make money or have a better life.’? What if it is, ‘So you can address this or address that.’”
Barrah is working to develop specific agreements with employers to determine what they will contribute to develop qualified employees among students. Leprino Foods, Krumland Auto, Rhoads Co., Aersale and a construction company are some employers expressing interest.
Once those agreements are in place, then he will work with the teachers of graduating seniors to get their ideas on which students might be interested in such work. He also plans to talk to parents.
He said one employer has said it plans to pay for two years of college, with the students doing college work only for the first year and both college and on-the-job training the second. The student would be guaranteed a job if he or she successfully completed the program.
Beginning in the fall, Barrah plans to talk with parents about introducing aptitude assessment tests for all students, something being done now on an optional basis only. Those tests, coupled with interest inventories, would give an idea of which students would likely succeed in training programs for local jobs.
In the long-term, the same type of assessments and inventories would be used as guides to counsel students individually so that they can make decisions earlier about their post-graduation paths. The various options available would include being ready for careers, due to the on-the-job training, upon graduation; being prepared for associate’s degree or professional certificate programs with apprenticeship components; or pursuing four-year or master’s degrees for professional fields.
Both Kunkel and Barrah said that many students are never aware of the potential or all of the components that go into some of the careers available locally.
“Kids’ interests are really shaped by exposure,” Barrah said. “Part one of the plan is to really create that exposure for kids.”
ENMU-R: Scholarships for adult learners
Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell received funding from the legislature that will create 40 scholarships for adult learners, people who do not have high school diplomas but have earned high school equivalency degrees, or GEDs or HiSETS, said Shawn Powell, president of ENMU-R.
“We have some scholarship programs that we previously didn’t have,” he said.
ENMU-R plans to announce more specifics about the scholarships in coming weeks, he said, but the concept now is to award them to people with the New Mexico National Guard Youth Challenge or ENMU-R’s adult education program, which has about 1,100 enrollees each year.
“We’ll work with that population to help them find the careers they would be excited to be in,” he said, “and then to get them out to the job site to meet the work needs.”
He said ENMU-R administrators plan to work with RISD officials, business leaders and the Roswell Chamber of Commerce and the Hispano Chamber of Commerce to identify employers’ needs.
McCamley said such linkages with business will be key.
“Too many times it has been popular to just come up with new educational programs without talking to businesses first,” he said, “and the governor understands very, very clearly that we need to get businesses in the center of what we do and support their needs.”
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.