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STEM Workers are Key Component of New Mexico’s Future

The UNM Business and Economic Summit held on January 12th brought together stakeholders (public, private and non-profit) from across New Mexico to envision economic growth in our state.

Based on a report released by the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce called “Driving New Mexico’s Future and Powering a Competitive Economy in a Post-Pandemic World,” the summit analyzed the opportunities and challenges our state will face in the years following the COVID-19 pandemic and specific strategies we can use to optimize our economic competitiveness.

Some challenges faced by New Mexico employers is a need for STEM educated workers and attracting talent. One strategy outlined in the report to help increase the labor pool is to create and fund a talent recruitment outreach program to attract young professionals. Highlighting New Mexico’s positive attributes such as natural beauty, affordability, diverse population and climate will also help attract young professionals.

Another strategy to improve the number of workers with work-readiness and in-demand middle skills is to create a Grant Tuition Program for community college students pursuing a degree in a STEM field that agree to remain in New Mexico for a specified number of years.

See below Pilar Martinez’s January 12th article, “Experts: STEM workers to drive NM’s future,” on the Albuquerque Journal Website at https://www.abqjournal.com/1535577/experts-stem-workers-to-drive-nms-future.html and reprinted below.

Experts: STEM workers to drive NM’s future

By Pilar Martinez / Journal Staff Writer
Published: Tuesday, January 12th, 2021 at 10:05pm
Updated: Tuesday, January 12th, 2021 at 10:39pm

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

The next decade could prove to be a crucial turning point in New Mexico’s economic future, with public universities and national laboratories taking the lead, according to speakers at the University of New Mexico’s third business and economic summit.

The virtual summit Tuesday, which centered on a recent economic report produced by the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce, gathered leaders in business, education and technology to explore ways the state can navigate a post-pandemic economy while also spurring new economic development.

The report, titled “Driving New Mexico’s Future,” identified current economic challenges and provided specific solutions to address the challenges.

One of the keys to success, according to speakers and the report, is ensuring the talent necessary for jobs in important sectors such as technology.

“The No. 1 barrier that I see that’s limiting our growth is the quality and quantity of STEM talent in New Mexico,” said Col. Eric Felt, director of the Air Force Research Laboratory Space Vehicles Directorate. “Right now I have 50 vacancies that I cannot find the right people to fill.”

Felt said there is a lot of opportunity for growth in the space economy within New Mexico, but attracting talent to the state is a barrier.

“We don’t have enough STEM workers in the state,” he said. “We need to make New Mexico a more attractive place for out-of-state STEM employees to relocate.”

But elsewhere, the need for STEM employees increasingly is being filled from within the state, thanks to new educational partnerships. Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Thom Mason said that although 40% of current staff members were recruited from out of state, 75% of last year’s hires came from New Mexico.

“Part of the reason for that is because we’ve been able to work with the educational institutions to kind of set up pipelines that meet those needs,” Mason said. “And we’re going to need to do more of it.”

Mason said many LANL employees got their start as interns during their time as graduate or undergraduate students.

“If I go into a room at the lab and say, ‘How many people here began as a student, as an intern, or as a graduate student?’ a majority of hands will go up,” he said. “Doesn’t matter what room it is, what group I’m talking to.”

Public universities could play a role in crafting programs to provide the much-needed workers in New Mexico’s technology economy, higher education leaders said at the event.

“The question is, what’s the role of public universities in statewide economic development?” Arizona State University President Michael Crow said during the keynote address. “And the answer … is the role is central, it’s essential. It’s, in fact, so important that we need to figure out how to do it.”

Crow said the increasing globalization of the economy should prompt public universities to look for ways to help their state become more economically competitive at national and international levels.

“The economic competitiveness changes that are occurring around the world right now, and the rise of scientific prowess and knowledge-driven enterprises are moving faster than American universities,” he said.

But public universities can combat this through steps such as taking entrepreneurial and forward-looking approaches in creating unique degree programs, Crow said.