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Business, education and transformation

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It’s not always easy to recognize a transformational moment when you see it. In hindsight, sure — but as it’s unfolding, that’s different. Within communities and large organizations there are many more examples of fits and starts than consistent, determined efforts that bear the fruit they were intended to. And how. Ask anyone guiding a bureaucracy, public or private.

That being said, it is easy to recognize the coming together of talented people with shared goals — and equally important, with the access to resources that put those goals within reach.

That happened last week when Roswell Independent School District (RISD) and Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp. (EDC) representatives came together to discuss workforce training — and not in the vague way educators and businesspeople sometimes talk about prepping kids for the future.

These are local employers looking for specific aptitudes and attitudes, looking for future employees who can do the work and who want to be here. And these are educators who want their students to succeed — and to know there is far more opportunity in this area than they might imagine.

The purpose of last week’s meeting was to open a dialog between the schools — RISD and Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell officials were on hand — and business leaders who deal daily with the sometimes daunting task of finding qualified workers, especially for jobs that require technical training.

Some employers invest considerable resources in looking outside eastern New Mexico for staff. That costs a lot of time and money — and is not philosophically in line what what most businesses would prefer. People with local ties, so the thinking goes, would be more likely to feel settled and at home here, more likely to stay on board with an employer long-term.

So where does that leave employers and the educators charged with creating tomorrow’s workforce?

“Our option is, we can grow employees here,” EDC Board Chairman Bud Kunkel told the gathering. “It’s imperative that we work and begin immediately to grow these people locally.

“That’s the only way to provide an adequate number of trained employees that stay here in the area and staff the businesses.”

Large employers AerSale, Inc., Leprino Foods and the Krumland Auto Group were among the many business interests represented, and all told stories of the challenges they face finding workers with the abilities needed to operate successfully in their respective industries.

Some spoke of their need for workers right now, including young people able to take advantage of internship opportunities, and all expressed concern about how the area’s future workforce is being developed. But the input businesses have for education officials doesn’t end with those stories. The stories just set the stage. Those at the meeting also expressed a willingness to work with educators on shaping relevant curriculum.

The educators are listening. “There are two needs,” RISD Superintendent Dr. Ann Lynn McIlroy said. “There’s the need for labor today, and the need for sustaining labor in the future. … We can help you with today, I feel strongly that we can. …

“What we need to continue working on though is how we build a sustainable workforce for the future.”

McIlroy said instructors can meet with employers, pick their brains so to speak, and use that information to help guide students in the development of real-world skills with applications right here in Chaves County. “Let’s shoot for ideal,” she said. “There’s no sense in shooting for anything less.”

Communication is often an obstacle when bringing people and opportunities together — that’s something gatherings like last week’s can help address, and the payoff from clearing that one hurdle could be significant. “I think our kids would want your jobs if they knew about them,” McIlroy said.

A follow-up meeting between businesspeople and instructors will take place later in the month, and additional next steps include planning for a job fair.

So was last week’s meeting a transformational moment?

There are professional career opportunities in Chaves County with large, stable employers. Those businesses need workers, some of them desperately. The schools meanwhile are teaching kids and helping set them on their various career paths.

Sounds like a perfect match, right?

It should be — and can be. Last week showed that all the pieces are in place.

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John Dilmore is editor of the Roswell Daily Record. He can be reached at editor@rdrnews.com. The views expressed in this column are those of the author.