- Associated Press - Sunday, June 5, 2016

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - As the Los Alamos National Laboratory faces thousands of job openings over the next five years, New Mexico’s community colleges are looking at how they can prepare their students for those jobs.

Representatives from the lab and community college presidents met in Santa Fe with U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, on Wednesday to figure out how small educational institutions can get their students employed at the lab, The Santa Fe New Mexican reported (https://bit.ly/1stxLMI ). The majority of the lab’s workforce currently comes from out of state.

Lab officials estimate almost 2,500 job vacancies will arise between now and 2020 in positions ranging from nuclear defense to operations as the baby boomer generation reaches retirement age.

Kathy Keith, a lab spokeswoman, said the institution isn’t just looking for scientists with doctorate degrees. About one-third of current lab employees hold a Ph.D., the same amount as those who hold no degrees, Keith said.

Representatives from Santa Fe Community College, Highlands University, Los Lunas Community College and the University of New Mexico campus in Taos, among others, stressed that science, technology, engineering and math programs at their schools prepare students for the workforce, but that there are still problems.

Many said the K-12 system is not cultivating a love of science in students at a young age. Dr. Sam Minner Jr., president of Highlands University, said the STEM “funnel is not big enough” and that students are being turned away from science careers long before they get to college.

College leaders also said many of their students are academically qualified, but that they can’t pass background checks required by the lab. Domingo S├ínchez, president of Northern New Mexico College, said addiction and behavioral health issues in the state need to be addressed.

Heinrich said it’s important to address the issues now before operating contracts for both Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque go out to bid.

“We are at a transition point because both the Sandia and Los Alamos contracts are going to be bid over the course of the next couple of years,” Heinrich said. “. It is an opportunity to hit the reset button and say, ‘Here’s what we expect, and how are you going to meet that?’ “


Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican, https://www.sfnewmexican.com

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