“This isn’t for everybody, just like college isn’t for everybody, but it fills a critical need for workforce development in this area.”

— RRPS Superintendent Sue Cleveland, about career technical education


Visitors to Rio Rancho Public Schools’ spacious new Career Technical Education building contemplated — and saw the tangible beginning of — the district’s future in “the trades.”

Larry Davis, left, of the Rio Rancho Public Schools CTE team, shows off the northwest corner of the career technical education building, where students will one day learn welding, as part of the Innovation Day event put on by the Rio Rancho Regional Chamber of Commerce and Rio Rancho Public Schools on Thursday afternoon. (Gary Herron / Observer)

When this building at 7001 Zenith Court, just east of NM 528 and north of Tap ’n Taco, opens in August 2023, auto mechanics, welding, an energy lab, a multimedia production area and more will be available for thousands of students in the district’s high schools.

“This is a high school, not a trade school,” noted Larry Davis of the RRPS CTE team. “(And) our goal is to offer dual-credit courses here.”
It’s been in the works for quite a while, explained RRPS Superintendent Sue Cleveland.

The district surveyed the business community about its needs and researched available jobs. When the survey results were examined, there wasn’t a single dissenter, she said.

RRPS’s facility won’t be unique; Cleveland said the Hobbs school district is opening its CTE center May 5, terming it “the Cadillac” thanks to huge support in that community.

Jerry Schalow, president and CEO of the Rio Rancho Regional Chamber of Commerce, termed CTE “our biggest challenge; our biggest focus” in light of the need here for a top-notch workforce.

Businesses he’s spoken to that are thinking about locating in the City of Vision, he said, “say schools and low crime bring people to Rio Rancho.”

Davis led tours through the 74,000-square-foot facility that formerly housed call centers for Alliance Data (2012-21) and, before that, Victoria’s Secret (1997-2012).

“Right now, we have a critical need in this country, and more particularly in … Rio Rancho and Albuquerque, a lack of skilled workers,” Cleveland said. “A lot of companies won’t even look at us because we don’t have enough people that are trained in the skilled trades.

“That’s really a shame, because they’re very good-paying jobs; they’re very stable jobs; they have good futures, and so we just want to provide another opportunity for students to be successful and to do what they enjoy doing.

“This isn’t for everybody, just like college isn’t for everybody, but it fills a critical need for workforce development in this area,” Cleveland added. “We talked with the companies; we’ve talked with the unions — everyone says there is such a critical shortage right now.

“Many of the skilled tradesmen are aging out and there’s nobody behind them to take their place and, again, these are good-paying jobs – we’re looking at the trades that will really provide a good income for an individual and family.”

To illustrate students’ interest in one trades area, Davis said 48 students are taking the auto mechanics course — and 165 had signed up.