Job training is one of the 10 vital services identified by the Anna Age Eight Institute that must be ensured to 100% of New Mexico residents to ensure families survive and thrive. In 2020, 20% of Socorro residents that were surveyed indicated they needed job training; of those, 57% reported difficulty accessing training. The number one barrier? Not having the type of training they wanted.

More recently, the Middle Rio Grande Economic Development Association completed an Economic Development Assessment that identified workforce as one of the areas for economic capacity building, and calculated that over 1,000 new jobs need to be created over the next 10 years (among other strategies) to reverse the population decline and develop Socorro’s economy. The report stated that “Socorro County will have to build their own formal workforce development program and carefully tailor it to the needs of future employers.”

The four-day school week provides an excellent opportunity to leverage the unstructured weekday to create programs that prepare students for the workforce. A recent successful example is the welding program at Socorro High School.  Students practice welding techniques and gain significant skills because they are able to practice for several continuous hours each Friday.  By the end of the last school year, six students received welding certifications.

All six of these students were offered jobs with Arcosa Wind Towers at their Belen facilities.

Not only did Arcosa offer to hire all of the students, but they identified this welding certification program as an excellent pipeline for employees and have agreed to provide the specialized welder used at their facilities, as well as all of the consumables (welding rods, etc) needed.  They have an unmet need for skilled welders, and Socorro High School has provided an opportunity for students to meet this need.

Another job training program that will start this fall at Socorro High School is a film and movie making course taught by Jim Burleson. Students will learn the basics of every job in the process of filmmaking from concepts to distribution, and have opportunities to work on actual films in the state.  Students will acquire skills and build relationships that will enable them to contribute to the growing film industry in New Mexico, providing another unique job training opportunity for students.

Looking forward, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory is in the planning stages for developing the Next Generation Very Large Array Telescope.

This is a major project that will have a significant demand for skilled technicians to construct and then maintain nearly 200 new antennas near the current VLA.  Recognizing this future need, NRAO is beginning conversations with Socorro High School to develop a job training program for students interested in a career as a technician. An initial possibility has NRAO staff training SHS students on Fridays on electronics and fiber optics theory of operation, troubleshooting, and repair. While still in the very early planning stages, it serves as an example of what’s on the horizon for meeting the demand for job training and workforce needs in Socorro.

New Mexico Tech is exploring a job training option that offers Friday courses that teach administrative assistant skills, such as word processing and using spreadsheets.  They are looking for community feedback on the needs, but this could be a promising pathway that might be part of community education program that provides anyone in Socorro the opportunity to develop a skill set that will always be in demand in our community.

These amazing efforts will not only provide the types of job training opportunities that people are looking for but will also contribute to the 1,000 jobs that will meet the unique needs of current and future employers, and will help drive Socorro’s economic development.