Rio Rancho-area high school students have a way they can jump right into more appealing job occupations without having to pursue a four-year college degree, especially if they’re on the fence about the latter.

Rio Rancho Public Schools, CNM and UNM Health Sciences are providing such direct pathways to the workforce with a career technical education program and internship opportunities, which they touched on during Thursday’s presentation at the Rio Rancho Events Center.

Larry Davis, Rio Rancho Public Schools’ director of Career Technical Education, discusses programs his department is offering during Sandoval Economic Alliance’s quarterly luncheon on Thursday, March 31, 2022, at the Rio Rancho Events Center. (Matt Hollinshead/Observer)

“We just want to make sure that the students that are maybe looking for a little bit faster entrance into the job world, into the career world, that we provide a route for them as well,” said Larry Davis, RRPS’ director of career technical education.

Programs RRPS’ Career Technical Education Center offers training in automotive technology, multimedia production, energy and mixed construction, which includes property maintenance, carpentry and electrical work.

Davis said automotive technology in particular is a driving force when it comes to specialized training because auto dealerships like Don Chalmers Ford are struggling to get people to come to work. Currently, 48 RRPS students are taking automotive classes at the district’s bus transportation department building.

CNM and UNM Health also have future health sciences programs in mind.

CNM is exploring dual credit programs for occupations like medical laboratory sciences, physical therapist assistants, community health workers and medical assistants, while UNM Health is looking at dual credit for its biomedical sciences program.

“We have 25-30 percent of students just in (RRPS) who are interested in health careers,” said Laura Burton, the associate director of business operations at the UNM Health Sciences Rio Rancho campus.

To further feed that workforce pipeline, some of CNM’s new training programs include artificial intelligence and machine learning, solar electricity and working with unmanned aircraft systems like drones.

CNM’s available programs at its Rio Rancho location include nursing, emergency medical services and fire science. CNM’s Ventana Ranch location features programs for occupations such as pharmacy technicians, physical therapy assistants and phlebotomists, plus 911 dispatch certification.

Thirty-two CNM students are currently enrolled in the school’s medical assistant certification program, while UNM’s College of Nursing program has 109 students  UNM Health is also working to expand to some rural parts of the county, such as incorporating a virtual reality site for students in the Cuba Independent School District interested in health classes.

The central goal is to make them mutually beneficial for the industries and students.

“There’s just incredible opportunity with all the growth, the hospitals and all the things that are coming up in Rio Rancho right now,” Davis said, adding the schools would be remiss to not tap into these types of resources for the students’ benefit.