Officials and students gather Tuesday morning at NNMC for the announcement of a new program funded by Workforce Solutions that will train more than 50 area students for high-paying jobs at with LANL and N3B. Photo by Arin McKenna/Valley Daily Post
New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions, the Department of Higher Education, Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), Newport News Nuclear BWXT-Los Alamos (N3B), Northern New Mexico College and University of New Mexico–Los Alamos held a joint press conference Tuesday at NNMC to announce a new program funded by Workforce Solutions that will train more than 50 area students for high-paying jobs at with LANL and N3B.
“This is a game changer,” said Northern New Mexico College President Richard J. Bailey. “It’s a game changer for the way we do business. It’s a game changer for economic development. It’s a game changer for how higher ed and major employers can partner in ways that lift the standard of living for everybody: not just the people who are in this program and their families but for everybody. And when you have an entire community that’s lifted up by this type of collaboration, that’s something that’s truly worth celebrating.”
Students will be trained for high-demand jobs as radiological control technicians (RCTs) and nuclear-trained operators. The financial support comes through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and through apprenticeship funding. Funding will assist students with tuition and salary dollars.
RCTs and nuclear-trained operators play a vital role at both LANL and N3B by monitoring activities and ensuring that operations are safe and comply with policies and procedures. Employees in these fields have a $42,000 starting salary and can advance to a salary of more than $100,000.
NMDWS funding will support tuition for 30 of the initial cohort of 40 students, with the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and LANL funding the other 10.
NNMC has partnered with LANL to offer a two-year associate degree in Radiation Protection, which will provide RCT career opportunities at the lab.
“The laboratory really has an acute need right now for radiological technicians. They play a critical role in carrying out our operations,” LANL Director Thom Mason said. “And this is an area where we have a strong demand now and see a strong demand into the future.”
LANL had 1,399 open positions as of two weeks ago, with many of those being RCT positions, Mason said.
“The things that are being announced today I hope are the beginning of a trend,” Mason said. “I can see more areas where it’s going to be necessary to sit down with the educational institutions and figure out what the skills we need are and structure a program that can be modeled on what we’re doing here.”
In partnership with NNMC and courses offered at the DOE’s National Training Center, N3B will offer a 22-month state-registered apprenticeship program to train nuclear operators, with an initial cohort of five students. Combining approximately 2,500 hours of instruction and on the job training, successful graduates should receive 50 college credit hours and a program certificate.
“The apprenticeship program that we’re starting has a lot of legs to it, a lot of vision going forward with where we’re going with that,” said N3B President/Program Manager Glenn J. Morgan. He added that N3B-Los Alamos’ parent company has had a successful apprenticeship program in place for more than 100 years, which the New Mexico program is modeled after.
“Back in our home office the apprentices that come out are about 40 percent of the executive leadership team,” Morgan said. “So it is truly a pathway to get to where you need to get to.”
N3B and UNM-LA are offering a 12-week intensive academic program taught at UNM-LA by senior N3B radiological protection personnel, with several hours of hands-on fieldwork under the direct supervision of qualified RCTs. This 10-credit-hour RCT “boot-camp” is a non-registered apprenticeship program for 10 students leading to a certificate in Radiation Control.
“I had a chance to meet with some of the students in the program Monday and find out a little bit about their backgrounds,” UNM-LA CEO Cynthia Rooney said. “And to know that we are changing lives for individuals, providing new opportunities, it’s so exciting.”
New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley celebrated the model for the training and apprenticeship programs, which will allow students to get an education without going into debt.
“We’re calling this type of thing Earn While You Learn with the Three P’s,” McCamley said. “We want people to get paid while they’re learning. We want them to get a decent paper at the end of their process showing that they have a certain amount of skills and we want them to have a full-time position waiting for them.”
This was the second initiative launched this year, under the leadership of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, that is focused on providing alternative pathways to well-paying jobs other than obtaining a bachelor’s degree, McCamley said.
“Governor Lujan Grisham believes passionately and strongly in an economy that works for everyone…(she) believes strongly in building a diverse and flexible way for all of our students to get this education, lead good lives and build their communities,” McCamley said. “We need pathways that allow people to say, ‘I want to stay here in New Mexico. I don’t want to have to go to Dallas or Denver or Phoenix to find good work. I want to be able to get the education I need, the skills I need and the jobs that will allow me to do well right here in the state.’”
Secretary of Higher Education Kate O’Neill urged students present at the event Tuesday to help promote the program.
“You are the best spokespeople for this person, so please help get the word out,” O’Neill said. “Let folks know that this is going on. The best evidence that we have that these collaborations are really proactive and positive and work is the word that you put out there to folks.”
Newly enrolled students were a major focus at Tuesday’s event.
“This is really leading to a future for me: a future career at the labs, a future career at N3B that is pushing me to new heights beyond where I was at before,” said Jeremy Salazar, who is participating in the RCT bootcamp.
Nearly every speaker commented on how quickly the program had come together and on a desire for future collaborations.
“That is an example of what can happen when there is this kind of synergy, when you have the whole becoming more than the sum of its parts. So that is higher ed, workforce, the labs: everybody coming together to combine resources and get where we need to go,” O’Neill said. “We look forward to more collaborations such as this, and we are poised and ready on behalf of higher ed to think outside the box and work with you all on the kinds of initiatives like this that we need to be doing more of.”
LANL Director Thom Mason mentioned that the Lab has 1,399 open positions, many of them in RCT. Photo by Arin McKenna/Valley Daily Post
N3B President/Program Manager Glenn J. Morgan said that the N3B-Los Alamos parent company has had a successful apprenticeship program for more than 100 years. Photo by Arin McKenna/Valley Daily Post
UNM-LA CEO Cindy Rooney said she is pleased with how the new program ‘is changing lives for individuals’. Photo by Arin McKenna/Valley Daily Post
New Mexico Department of Workforce solutions Secretary Bill McCamley. Workforce Solutionsis providing funding for the RCT program, which will train more than 50 area students for high-paying jobs at with LANL and N3B.
New Mexico Secretary of Higher Education Kate O’Neill announced that her department is‘poised and ready on behalf of higher ed to think outside the box and work with you all on the kinds of initiatives like this that we need to be doing more of’. Photo by Arin McKenna/Valley Daily Post
NNMC President Richard J. Bailey called this new collaboration a ‘game changer’. Photo by Arin McKenna/Valley Daily Post
NNMC Assistant Professor Scott Braley demonstrates some of the equipment used in the training program. The equipment is all on loan from LANL. Photo by Arin McKenna/Valley Daily Post