Future Focused student and teacher sharing computer

New Mexico’s Skill Gap: How Relationships Can Help Employers, Workers and the Economy

New Mexico's Skills Gap: How Relationships Can Help Employers, Workers and the Economy

By Jason Espinosa, New Mexico Association of Commerce and Industry, Future Focused Board Member | February 15, 2018

“We need a new strategy if we are going to connect the students in our schools to the employers that are looking to grow their companies.”
 

There has been a lot of attention paid to the “skills gap” in New Mexico lately.  The Albuquerque Journal and the Santa Fe New Mexican have dedicated significant column space to the the lack of qualified workers to fill available jobs.  While there is no doubt that there are significant workforce development challenges in New Mexico, the topic proves to be more complicated than just a lack of skilled workers. Good jobs and qualified workers do exist in New Mexico, but our young people don’t have much knowledge about the jobs available in our community, and there are few relationships between educators and employers.  We need a new strategy if we are going to connect the students in our schools to the employers that are looking to grow their companies.  As John Lahoff of Southwest Labs told the Albuquerque Journal, “We have talented people as anywhere; you just have to look at it differently. You have to think outside the box.” 

Our mission at the Association for Commerce and Industry is to marshal the advocates, resources and policies that enable businesses to thrive and families to prosper. It’s an expansive view that requires us to think in new ways about breaking down the barrier between school and work.

When it comes to the lack of qualified people in our state,  I’ve come to believe that our schools or governments in general can only do so much to fix this problem by themselves.  Instead, we need new ways to connect the business community and educators to each other.  Employers and entrepreneurs all over the state run companies that can provide essential experiences young people need for a prosperous future and for the dynamism of our companies. We need to be forging relationships between schools, students and businesspeople so that students gain the skills they need to be successful workers and the relationships to find gainful employment.

There are organizations in New Mexico working to help create these relationships, but they must become a common occurrence if we are hoping to see big, transformative change. Future Focused Education in Albuquerque’s new paid internship program connects schools and employers in a practical way that can re-define the future of our workforce. I am proud to serve on their board. It’s a growing chorus with Mission: Graduate and others. 

It is often said that new employees do not have the soft skills that employers need.  Collaboration, communication and being client focused are essential competencies for employers.  Young people who have participated in programs like the ones above practice these behaviors every day. They are successful because they learn the ability to adapt to their work environment.  The invaluable experiences teach them how to work on teams, finish the projects they start, and serve the company’s internal and external clients.

Finally, our competitive advantage in New Mexico is our connection to each other.  We are a small state and most of us are literally two degrees of separation from each other.  Building a new infrastructure, can break down the artificial barriers between our public schools and employers.  It is the essential step to building a workforce for tomorrow. 

 

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