• Gregory Z. Smith

Building an Environment for Jobs and Careers

Updated: Sep 30, 2018

Potential Site for Future Performance Amphitheater

Careers are already less permanent than they have been in the past. We've come a long way from the days when young people were typically expected to do what their parents had done, but more changes are coming. Even though many of us have felt free to pursue different careers than our parents did, there has still often been a theme that we should to stick to one field, if not work for one employer. However, even that is changing.

When we talk about job skills these days, we are often focusing on abilities to learn new skills and to work collaboratively with others, even as workplaces themselves change. We have so much information at our fingertips that we emphasize remembering facts less than knowing where to find the facts. We see so many fields melding, interacting, dovetailing, and cross-pollinating that the lines between professions are frequently blurring. We often say that there aren't even names yet for the jobs our students will be taking on in the near future.

In the past, there was some sense that those who wanted to work would somehow find work, but many jobs we have known as basic and essential are either going away or are being taken over by automation or digital systems. It then seems likely that the competition for jobs is going to grow more intense. How does a community build an environment that cultivates job and career opportunities?

I would suggest that we look at those areas least likely to be farmed out to mechanisms or computers able to work longer hours, able to perform the jobs more accurately and safely, and able to cost less to "employ." We also may benefit from looking at directions, or trends, in what we can anticipate people will be doing in the future.

Agriculture has long been a staple in our valley, but it is also an area that shows a high potential for automation. We may be able to count on it to provide jobs for a few more decades, but we can no longer look at it as a guaranteed employer. Similarly, many entry level jobs in construction, manufacturing, mining, and service are vulnerable to humans being replaced with machines and computers.

My sense is that the more complicated and direct human interaction that is involved, the more likely the current job is going to continue. So, many aspects of education should still require humans, many positions in medical and legal fields should still need us, and design jobs from database to home-base should be fairly secure. That's comforting, but each of these fields implies some specific training of some sort. Education seems to be a growth industry if we can plan appropriately for it.

In Las Cruces, Arrowhead Early College High Schools, Doña Ana Community College, New Mexico State University, Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine, and numerous trade schools are helping us be ready. To whatever degree our other schools are already thinking outside the box or have a potential to do so in the future will help us succeed as well, but I believe our state is already paying a price for looking backward instead of forward. When the City can help through programs after school and during holidays; when we can expand access to information, knowledge, and training at our libraries, museums, and community centers; we will be improving what is possible in our community.

On the impact to education front, I have thought that a City Hall Charter Middle School might be an interesting way that the City could also partner with the Las Cruces Public Schools.

In addition to the fields mentioned above, the arts and sciences also hold much potential to continue providing jobs in the future. In both of these fields there are intersects with higher education and with other fields, but there are also opportunities for people with more interest than formal training to carve out careers.

All of this leads me to see the creative economy, high tech research and development, healthy and engaging neighborhoods and facilities, healthcare, and education as five areas on which we can focus for the long term and impact in a very positive way our local environment for jobs and careers.

As is often said, the City can't really create by itself enough jobs to sustain our local economy. At about 1,500 employees, the City of Las Cruces is one of the largest employers in Doña Ana County and the second or third largest employer within city limits, but our City's 1,500 employees are still only about 3% of the workforce in Las Cruces. Nonetheless, while the City cannot employ much larger numbers of people itself, it can work to nourish this environment in which jobs flourish.

In order to encourage jobs in the creative economy, I suggest we make sure we have a dynamic museum of art, we ensure that public art opens eyes to the roles art can take in our community, we collaborate with the Doña Ana Arts Council to showcase art and artists, we ensure that there are performance venues in our parks and around the community, we collaborate with Film Las Cruces and Arrowhead to encourage film and creative technologies in our area, and we feature local cuisine and entertainment whenever possible. We should also look for ways to encourage use of our city venues for performances and arts oriented events, and we might consider things like a large performance amphitheater for outdoor and evening performances (with the Organ Mountains as a backdrop), built in a place such as a quarry currently just outside city limits.

To encourage high tech research and development, I suggest we continue to find ways to work with NMSU, Arrowhead, Spaceport America, NASA, and White Sands Missile and Testing Range to connect their efforts with each other and with other regional entities. To showcase what they are doing for our young people, for our graduates, and for our guests, we include information about their accomplishments in our material about Las Cruces.

Healthy and engaging neighborhoods and facilities fall more into the why-do-employers-want-to-choose-to-be-in-Las-Cruces realm. It also impacts the caliber of employees who want to be here, and that is an eternal cycle of employers wanting to know that there are people here with the skill sets they need and potential employees wanting to know there will be engaging employment along with things for themselves and their family members to do. It doesn't hurt for employers and their families to feel like there are things to do also.

The pool we will be adding to the Aquatic Center is part of this, along with expanding the number of soccer fields, increasing the connectivity throughout our community on hike-and-bike trails, and working to ensure there are more indoor basketball venues available in the future. These facilities along with master planned neighborhoods and community hubs should help Las Cruces stand out even more as a great place to live and thrive.

Our existing hospitals seem to be doing what they should to address current needs and anticipate future ones. That said, there still appears to be a plan to add another hospital facility in the old country club area, and that ought to further improve the level of healthcare in our community as our population ages and more retirees choose to live here, and as we continue to address other health concerns that come up with populations of any age.

Finally, education, education, education... People want to know that their children will be safe as they are learning skills to help them live happy, healthy, and productive lives. That includes employers and employees; people starting their families and people with maturing families. Those starting businesses, moving businesses, and growing local businesses want to know that they can find an educated workforce here. The major obligation falls upon the shoulders of our public schools to make real and useful learning happen, but the City can be an active and proactive partner in that endeavor.

The long and the short of it is that we have to believe we can make a difference, carefully structure and budget how we make that difference, and then commit to doing it.

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