Accelerate promotes technical training

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Region > Program shows first successes and expands opportunities

By Arin McKenna

Two years ago the Regional Development Corporation joined with six Northern New Mexico colleges and regional businesses to launch a two-year training program called Accelerate: Technical Training and Job Placement.


The program is designed to “get students out the door work-qualified for the jobs that we know are in demand now and the jobs that we’ve identified that we want to grow into,” according to RDC Executive Director Kathy Keith.

Keith joined Program Monitor Carla Rachkowski and University of New Mexico-Los Alamos Executive Director Cedric Page to report on the program’s progress at the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities meeting Friday.

The RDC’S 2010 Regional Economic Development Initiative identified workforce development as a key element for economic growth.

“Under the human capital area of the strategic plan, our communities identified as their number one priority workforce development,” Keith said. “And specifically what we heard from communities in Northern New Mexico was we want local folks in our communities to have the qualifications to get good paying jobs locally, that we continually see our local businesses hiring from outside our region, and that’s frustrating to us. We want to see more locals employed in positions.”

Accelerate was launched in 2011, with programs at UNM-LA and Taos, Luna Community College, Northern New Mexico College, Santa Fe Community College and New Mexico Highlands University.

The program is geared toward non-traditional students interested in technical fields. The average age for those enrolled in the program is 30 and the balance is approximately 50 percent male and female.

Accelerate representatives offer newly enrolled students who meet the criteria the opportunity to participate in the program. Twenty students at each college are given training and skills that increase their chances of success. RDC identified a high rate of attrition as a significant problem.

“The goal of Accelerate overall is to increase the graduation rate in our institutions of higher education in Northern New Mexico, in two year degree programs,” Rachkowski said.

The three building blocks of the program are developing math competency, providing “intrusive advising” with career technical advisors and teaching professional readiness skills.

The core of the math competency component is an intensive Math Boot Camp designed to accelerate students through remedial math. Instructors are taught the latest techniques for working with students lacking basic skills. The program includes online tools and blended learning material enhanced with a robotics component to help them understand how math can be used in the real world. Each campus also has a tutor available 20 hours a week during boot camp.

“One of the spinoff aspects of math camp on our regular academic offerings is that it has motivated our faculty to look at some of these techniques to help students move forward,” Page said. “So it really has impacted throughout our campus and equipped our faculty with new methods for teaching successfully.”

Rachkowski views the career technical advisors as a key element to the success of the program. The mentors proactively advise students on anything that can affect their school work. Each college has one advisor.

“It is critical to have an individual who is a coach for these students to make them aware of the future options they have in the workplace,” Page said. “Part of the career technical advisor’s position is to work with the students on workforce readiness, in other words, those soft skills that are necessary for getting and retaining a job in a technical field or in a business area.”

UNM-LA plans to expand the program.

“It’s important that we step up and provide services that insure students complete their degree program in a timely fashion and to get jobs when they graduate,” Page said.

The professional readiness program works with regional businesses and organizations to offer students training in a variety of job skills, from preparing a resume to how to interview successfully. Accelerate held its first campus-wide event last fall, with panelist from local businesses talking about the challenges they faced in becoming successful.

Accelerate is soliciting regional businesses to participate in their next event, scheduled for Feb. 28. Participants will help students who are nearing graduation practice job interviews and get feedback on resumes and cover letters.

The professional readiness component also offers 30 paid internships with local businesses to provide students with “real world experience.” The program pays for a 100-hour internship. The businesses and students agree on goals in advance and the business provides feedback afterward.

Accelerate is funded by the Department of Energy Officer of Environmental Management. DOE awarded the program $495,000 in 2011 and $625,000 in 2012. Accelerate is asking for $625,000 for FY2013, which begins in March. In addition to continuing the core curriculum, this year’s goals include enhancing the curriculum for math camp, providing more professional development for instructors and increasing the number of internships.

The program retained 79 students after the first year and enrolled 120 more students in the fall. Many students are now nearing graduation. Accelerate also received a Gold Excellence Award from the International Economic Development Council in 2012.

Page reported that UNM-LA partnered with New Mexico Tech to receive grant funding from the National Science Foundation for a four-year program.

“Some of our students are so energized about their degree program that they want to continue on and get their bachelors degree,” Page said.

Rachkowski said the program grew out of recognition that when LANL hires instate, it hires a large percentage on NMT graduates.

“So we in the north have entered into an agreement with them where our two-year students go directly to Tech and have a program basically like they’ve had here. The laboratory has joined with us to say that they will take 90 percent of our students in that program into internships in the summer at the laboratory,” Rachkowski said. “So our goal is for students to start in the north, finish their degree at Tech and then come back and be employed in Northern New Mexico.”

Several coalition board members praised the success of the program. Rachkowski asked them to voice that support to the DOE to increase the chances of continued funding.

“It’s very important to them, if they’re making an investment in the community that they hear back about how it’s working,” Rachkowski said.