Sandia National Laboratories Director Steve Younger met with New Mexico 3rd District Congressman Ben Ray Luján at a recent forum to discuss an act that would expand trades in New Mexico.
The roundtable, led by Luján, included tradespeople and students who had interned at Sandia, academic and research groups from New Mexico’s national labs and leadership from Central New Mexico Community College, the University of New Mexico, Navajo Technical University and others to build on the DOE National Labs Jobs Apprenticeships for Complete and Committed Employment Specialized Skills Act recently introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Luján.
The ACCESS Act would establish a five-year grant program run by DOE to create apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs in colleges and technical education schools to fill nuclear industry jobs at national laboratories. Under the act, veterans, young people and those with barriers to employment would be given priority in grant awards.
Research labs depend on technologists, machinists, welders and other trades to advance science and technology, Steve said. “Someone has to actually make the products and instrumentation that enable us to accelerate discovery.”
From curricula to career
During the lively discussion, participants sought ways to improve the link between curricula and career opportunities in New Mexico and to better communicate numerous existing programs, like Sandia’s trades training program and its various internships and apprenticeships. Several Sandia employees who were CNM students spoke of how their experience in trades training programs led them to good jobs at the Labs.
CNM President Katharine Winograd said the strong relationship between CNM and Sandia Labs is important in creating a workforce “that supplies the skilled trades you need when you need them.” To better align education with industry, CNM and UNM Los Alamos are creating two-year programs in welding, radiologic technology, computer-aided design technology, maintenance and more.
On the employer side, Steve is exploring the development of scholarships, endowed chairs and educational foundations at Sandia. “Sandia and New Mexico can only benefit from efforts to expand a steady pipeline of skilled technical workers in our local academic centers,” Steve said.
Sandia already has numerous outreach programs that introduce science, technology, engineering and math principles to students in New Mexico from kindergarten through high school.
Toward the end of the session, Luján steered the discussion to the importance of communicating these programs and opportunities to New Mexico students. “We need to engage youngsters into programs to work at the Labs,” he said. “Fifty percent of the national labs’ workforce will become of age to retire in five years. This legislation can be a great tool to fill that gap.”