Community and Los Alamos National Laboratory officials pose Friday with Department of Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley, back row third from left. Pictured are, back row from left, Grace Willerton, Student Success Associate at UNM-LA, Joanie Ahler, Los Alamos County Economic Development Director, McCamley, Patrick Sullivan, Los Alamos Development Corporation Executive Director, Dave Clark, Institute Director at the LANL National Security Center and Mark Russell of N3B Los Alamos. Front row: Nan Sauer, Director of LANL’s Office of Partnerships and Pipeline, Cathy Keith and Rebecca Estrada of LANL’s Community Partnerships Office. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Newly-appointed Department of Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley speaks Friday afternoon with Los Alamos community and Los Alamos National Laboratory officials. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Newly-appointed head of the state Department of Workforce Solutions Bill McCamley visited the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos Friday afternoon where he met with representatives of Los Alamos National Laboratory, N3B Los Alamos, UNM-LA CEO Dr. Cindy Rooney and other local officials.
McCamley, a former Las Cruces area state representative, is the former chairman of the House Labor and Economic Development Committee. He previously served as a Doña Ana County Commissioner and as executive director of the New Mexico Rural Development Council.
McCamley told the group it was his ninth day on the job and that Los Alamos was the sixth community he has been to outside Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
“Governor Lujan Grisham’s administration has been told we will not sit in our offices. We need to get out and engage the community in as intense and real a way as possible. If we don’t do that we’re not going to make real change,” he said.
McCamley said he wanted to know that Workforce Solutions is doing right and what it is doing wrong, what it can do to serve better and what it should stop doing that’s not working.
“Too many times as government agencies we’re not honest with ourselves in really determining what we’re doing wrong. If we’re going to make real change we’ve got to be honest with ourselves moving forward and I’d love to hear that,” he said.
McCamley said the Department expected to hit the 1,000 mark Friday in terms of furloughed and non-essential employees under the federal government shutdown. He noted that Friday was the first day without paychecks for the National Park Service, the Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Housing and Urban Development and others. He said the rule for applying for unemployment benefits has been changed for furloughed federal employees.
“Normally when you apply for unemployment you have to do two job searches a week and if you don’t take a job that’s offered to you, we stop giving you unemployment and if you’re like an air traffic controller working and not getting paid and you don’t take a job then we’re not giving you unemployment.” McCamley said adding that the Department is working hard to make sure the word about the change in this rule is getting out to the furloughed employee.
Among the issues discussed with McCamley were apprenticeship and academic programs in collaboration with UNM-LA and Northern New Mexico College; the backlog in clearances for LANL employees; the severe lack of housing in Los Alamos; workforce needs in the area; cultural issues with regard to high education in the state; developing a statewide STEM program; and N3B’s apprenticeship program for the legacy waste cleanup contract.
Nan Sauer of LANL’s Office of Pipelines and Partnerships addressed the clearance issue for Lab employees noting that Lab directors have testified on it in front of Congress.
“We are hiring people. We’re not stopping our hiring. It’s just a lag time between the time that they start working at the lab and the time they go into certain cleared areas to do classified work,” she said.
Sauer and LANL Community Partnerships Office director Cathy Keith said the Lab in desperate need for employees with clearances so LANL has flexible programs to try and hire people. Employees are being hired but it takes 18 to 18 months for them to get their clearances so they are completing their Master’s degree programs while they wait in their first year on the job. Sauer noted that there are some 700,000 individuals across government waiting for clearances.
The group also discussed the effort to put together a state wide organization that advocates for STEM which would align the programs that are going on across the state everyone knows what is out there in terms of STEM careers.
Sauer told McCamley that when the Lab director presents to community leaders he tells them people are needed in every discipline across the Lab.
“We need people in every discipline from the people who are doing machine work within TA-55 to the people who are doing our finance systems and our human resources to individuals who support our technical research in terms of technicians, technologists, staff member recruitment, PhD level, Master’s level,” she said. “Like everyone else in the world we are always trying to find more IT people because they’re so popular. We need IT people ranging from certificate programs or associate’s degrees in information technology all the way to people who have PhDs from major universities who are focused on building the next generation of supercomputers for the Lab. IT is probably one of the areas of highest turnover at the Lab.”
Dave Clark, Institutes Director for the LANAL National Security Education Center said the Lab has a very substantial student program.
“Last year we had 1880 students at the Lab ranging from high school students to undergrad, grad, Bachelor’s and post-Masters. We have one of the largest student programs in the DOE National Labs. Our problem is it’s too big. We’re trying to downsize that because we have issues in town with housing for all the students who come in in the summer. A lot of these students will come and actually live in a campground but the forests were closed last summer so we had a real big issue,” Clark said.
He said the Lab also has a post-doctoral program with about 500 postdocs over the course of the year.
“We’re the second largest program in the nation at the DOE National Labs. We’re very proud of it. We think it’s actually a role model for many other National Labs,” Clark said. .
Clark told McCamley the Lab hired 1,000 new employees last year and barely kept up with attrition but has a challenge in bringing in a new workforce. He said some of the training needed is not obtained in school.
“There’s a lot of on-the-job training so we’re very interested in the intern program,” he said.
Clark noted that in the entire Laboratory workforce, more than 50 percent are former students.
“In management, something like 35 percent used to be postdocs here. So for us, that recognition is that the student program is a valuable pipeline of future talent so that’s why we put so much effort into it,” he said.
The group had a lively discussion on the lack of available housing in Los Alamos County and the effect that has on workforce availability and housing for incoming LANL employees and summer students.
Kristin Henderson of N3B, a former County councilor explained to McCamley that Los Alamos is landlocked and that there is a huge demand for housing. She said even though the County is releasing land for housing, there is not enough housing for people being hired.
Patrick Sullivan, executive director of the Los Alamos Development Corporation told McCamley that Los Alamos is going to be different to anywhere else he’s going to be in the state because of its workforce needs. He said the workforce is smaller in part because high school kids are more affluent in Los Alamos County and the “need to work doesn’t exist”. He said students here are focused on academics and extracurricular activities.
“There’s a people shortage. We’re offering decent wages but there’s nowhere to live. We are 2,600 housing units short,” he said.
Keith also addressed the workforce issue saying that the Lab has some baby boomers that are aging out of the workforce. She noted that there a lot of new construction projects that have come on but with a large portion of the state budget going to capital outlay, that market is probably going to be even tighter for everyone. She said discussions are being held with unions to develop a curriculum that could be offered at high school level to prepare students for apprenticeship positions.
Asked by McCamley if there is competition between UNM-LA and Northern New Mexico College, Rooney said the two institutions are competing mainly against the culture of New Mexico that doesn’t support higher education.
“A lot of the students don’t necessarily plan to go to college. At Los Alamos (High School) across the street they do, but when you get out into Northern New Mexico they don’t plan to go to college. In our most recent graduation we had first generation college students stand up and more than half of our students at UNM-LA. You would expect that at some of the more rural institutions,” she said.
Rooney noted that some students are very underprepared. She said UNM-LA tries very hard to help them have success in their first semester because often they don’t have the family member to say, “hang in there”.
Mark Russell of N3B discussed building the apprenticeship program for nuclear operators.
“We will be looking at specifically nuclear operators which don’t necessarily take a degree but it is a pure apprenticeship program where they will get paid from day one – understanding that this is coming out of our corporate profit,” he said. “We’re going to focus on Northern New Mexico but we’re going to run into the same problems all these other folks are talking about. Where are we going to house them? How are we going to get them here and get them home? Who are the mentors for them from a coaching aspect?”
Russell said the apprenticeship is an absolute sweetheart deal for young people in Northern New Mexico. He said N3B is not looking at training people to go elsewhere.
“We want them to stay here in New Mexico. They would be the ones that have a future once they get the training and the clearance. Right now could use 40 people,” he said.