Courtesy illustration

Community leaders are taking steps to help close labor gaps in Sandoval County.

Workforce Connection of Central New Mexico Chairman Jerry Schalow is also the CEO of the Rio Rancho Regional Chamber of Commerce. He has identified labor gaps, situations in which the community doesn’t have enough qualified workers, around technology, information technology, medical care and manufacturing.

Workforce Connection of Central New Mexico provides resources for people exploring career opportunities and offers support to local job providers, according to its website, wccnm.org.

Schalow explained a program that will allow Workforce Connection applicants to receive funding to take courses related to labor gaps.

Candidates who do not qualify for funding through Workforce Connection will be referred to the Schumann Foundation, a scholarship program. Workforce Connection will follow up with recipients for education and job placement in the county, Schalow said.

About 62 percent of the city’s workforce leaves Rio Rancho every day, according to a report from Workforce Connection.

“So if you look at that, if we are going to recruit companies like a biomedical company, where are we going to get the staff for it? This is the question we have to ask,” he said.

Sandoval County has a population of about 150,000, and Rio Rancho makes up about 101,000 of them, according to the report. The city is still growing, with about 900 housing permits issued last year.

After Intel New Mexico announced its $3.5 billion investment, creating 700 new jobs in the area, growth will continue.

In 2011, Sandoval County had about one job per 6.1 residents; in 2019, there was about one job per 6.34 residents; and with growth continuing on its pattern, there will be about one job per 8 residents, according to the report.

About two jobs need to be added for every new home built, meaning about 1,802 jobs would have needed to be created last year, according to the report.

Starting a labor pipeline
It is too late to fix these labor gaps today, but programs from Rio Rancho Public Schools and Central New Mexico Community College can fill those gaps in the future, Schalow said.

“All we can do is work for tomorrow, and if we can get a career-technical education facility built that can be shared amongst RRPS and CNM — if we can do that — then we can begin accelerating our workforce to make it highly desirable to work in a number of fields and have a career path instead of (students) not knowing what they want to do,” he said.

CNM Vice President for Advancement and Enrollment Strategy Samantha Sengel collaborated with Schalow to “upskill” the workforce.

“And that’s the interesting thing, the term ‘upskill’ itself is really one that references building on the skills that someone already has and giving them a new path, and that’s our focus,” she said. “Individuals that have lots to contribute to our employers and our economic well-being and getting them back to jobs that are going to contribute to their own family’s economic well-being and moving our community forward.”

Sengel focuses on closing labor-force gaps by providing training or boot camps 15 weeks long or less.

“Both entities (CNM and RRPS) are really designed to ensure we’re providing the skilled workforce required for our economy here in central New Mexico, and really as we have been in the pandemic, we really focused on ensuring that we are supporting individuals on economic recovery,” she said.

Based on data from the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions, getting a CDL, or commercial driver’s license, can get an individual a job right away, Sengel said. In addition, there is a lot of opportunity in the IT and coding environment.

“When we look at other industries in our areas, IT and coding is one of the strongest career paths right now in terms of employability, and the important thing to note is that coding and IT careers span across all industries,” Sengel said.

Also, a career in health care is very viable, especially with the growth in Sandoval County, she said.

“What we focused on in the Upskill Sandoval program, and working together with our partners, is really providing a very clear way for individuals to get the information about short-term, mid-term and long-term opportunities in terms of their education and degree path,” Sengel said.

Schalow helped organize a subcommittee of Workforce Connection made up of economic developers from Valencia County, Sandoval County, Bernalillo County and Torrance County that meets about every six weeks.

“So we want to hear from the economic developers what it is they need in the workplace,” he said.

By upskilling and reskilling Sandoval County, the area is in a better position to attract businesses and support local businesses, he said.

Schalow said the fast-paced programs help businesses have a prepared workforce quicker and promote economic development.

“We can say, ‘Hey, I can identify this many people have gone through this program,’ and we can reach out to those graduates. In addition to that, we can do a heavy push towards this career model that you need and we can have them ready to go in 15 weeks. So by the time their building is ready, we got staff for you,’” he said.

The biggest challenge is stressing the importance of developing a workforce here in New Mexico to retain our youth, Schalow said.

“So, it’s gaining an understanding that workforce is as important, or even more important, than bringing that next company to New Mexico,” he said.

Classes like welding are considered an elective in the state, even though they can lead to a high-paying job. If students show interest in a career path like welding, guidance counselors should connect students to dual-credit classes through CNM or the University of New Mexico.

“So, instead of a student who’s working minimum wage in a fast-food place, they have an opportunity to start a career straight out of high school and work on expanding their career,” he said.
After one training in career technical education, a student could start making $80,000 a year, Schalow said.

To learn more, visit upskillsandoval.com.

Assistant Editor at Rio Rancho Observer