Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Workforce Development Summit

Governor Arlen Quetawki , Dr. Christopher Dyer, President Shelly and
Klo Abeita talk to the media during the Summit

The inaugural Workforce Development Summit, hosted by UNM-Gallup on January 14-15, was organized to “improve lives and close the employment gap” by coordinating discussions related to improving the economy and the workforce landscape of the region.  Event participants emphasized the importance of partnerships between the campus, the City of Gallup, the Navajo Nation, the Pueblo of Zuni, the Northwest New Mexico Council of Governments, and New Mexico Workforce Solutions.  Summit organizers L.D. Lovett, Louise Lopez and Denise Silva presented attendees with a variety of speakers, panel discussions and breakout sessions to promote conversations about improving responsiveness to the workforce needs of the community.  

The first panel discussion of the Summit offered attendees the opportunity to interact with representatives from New Mexico Workforce Solutions, the Zuni Education and Career Development Center and the Economic Development Division of the Navajo Nation who gave an overview of workforce needs from each of their unique perspectives.  

Keynote speaker, Dr. Brigett Russell, is the State Director of the GEAR UP New Mexico program.  Dr. Russell was representing Dr. Jose Garcia, Cabinet Secretary of the New Mexico Higher Education Department.  Dr. Russell noted that education is the most important aspect of workforce development as many incoming and existing businesses are forced to recruit out-of-state because New Mexico does not have a large enough supply of qualified workers.  Dr. Russell pointed out the importance of high schools preparing students for college and the responsibility of colleges to be innovative in improving remediation and career readiness programs.

The first day of the Summit concluded with a panel discussion on challenges to employment such as transportation issues, immigrant workers, incarceration, literacy and addiction.  Breakout sessions were then held on each of these issues which were led by specialists in each of the challenge areas.

The second day opened with welcoming remarks by the Honorable Jackie McKinney, Mayor of the City of Gallup, the Honorable Ben Shelly, Navajo Nation President, and the Honorable Arlen Quetawki Sr., Governor of the Pueblo of Zuni.
At a press conference following the opening remarks, Dr. Christopher Dyer noted that “The directional focus of UNM-Gallup is to better synergize the link between curriculum and growing opportunities in Gallup.”

Governor Quetawki added that he found the information of the Summit eye-opening and that “We must develop capacity to address industry in the region.”  He stressed the importance of collaboration and preparing people to get the education needed to get jobs.

President Ben Shelly was adamant that the “Navajo Nation policy must be amended in all departments from social services to law enforcement with an emphasis on job training…the Navajo Nation must generate revenue so there is not as much dependence on the federal government.”
Flo Abeita, Director of Human Resources for the City of Gallup, represented Mayor Jackie McKinney and noted that Mayor McKinney’s philosophy for workforce development is strongly based in collaboration.

When asked what next steps were needed following the Summit, participants emphasized the need to continue the momentum and encourage collaboration between participants.  Dr. Dyer noted that “Gaps, strategies and necessary educational tools must be identified so students can fill jobs and step into the workforce.”

Governor Quetawki spoke to the importance of evaluating ourselves and making sure that all efforts are moving forward.  He emphasized the importance of family molding children and encouraging education.

President Shelly would like to see a reduction in the amount of red tape involved in business development on the Navajo Nation.  He would like to see the Navajo Nation become less dependent on federal dollars and more responsible for its own future.
When prompted by a question from UNM-G student April Coonsis as to what help is needed from current students, all participants encouraged students to stay in school and get their degrees.  Also mentioned was the need to keep students in the area once they are trained.  Dr. Dyer stated “Successful students need to stay in the region and become resources for the area.  They can act as ambassadors.”

Governor Quetawki echoed that sentiment by stating “We need individuals to carry the message, advocate against obstacles and ask what can be done for the region.”  

The keynote speaker for the second day of the Summit was Dr. Ian Record, Director, Rebuilding Native Nations course series Native Nations for Leadership, Management, and Policy.  

The Summit concluded with a series of breakout sessions regarding future employment opportunities and challenges in the region.  Topics tackled included aligning educational institutions to meet workforce challenges, local employment opportunities within the school district and the City of Gallup, and identifying untapped employee resources available to employers.

The Summit laid the groundwork for future conversations and collaborations and allowed interested parties the chance to identify assets, challenges, and opportunities for growth of the local workforce.  Many thanks to LD Lovett and his team for bringing the key people together to face hard questions and propose solutions as to how collective collaboration can take place between UNM-Gallup, economic development partners and the business community.