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McMillan talks housing, LANL’s future, community

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By Tris DeRoma

Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Charles McMillan gave two similar yet different talks in Los Alamos last month, each one focusing on housing and jobs.

At Los Alamos County Council’s Aug. 29 meeting, McMillan emphasized the lab’s employment strategies and how that figures into the council’s plans to create more housing opportunities.

“We continue to bring new talent to the laboratory. As what  many organizations are experiencing today, we’re seeing retirements from the baby boom generation and, recognizing that was the case several years ago, we started working with the laboratory statisticians in the HR (human resources) organization, developing staffing plans that would address the future needs of the laboratory workforce, taking into account the projected retirements,” McMillan said. “Those projections are running very close to what we’ve expected and the consequences of that is that we hired over a thousand people last year at the laboratory, and this year, we are on track to hire almost another thousand.”

McMillan said he and his staff were able to accomplish this goal with a five-year plan that is reviewed yearly. He also gave county council a breakdown of where the workforce lives.

“Obviously, with that many new people coming into the laboratory, that presents many challenges for you as county councilors, because many of those people live here, or will want to live here in Los Alamos County,” McMillan said.
“We continue to see about the same distribution we see over many years, a third of the laboratory workforce living here in Los Alamos County, a third living down in the valley, and a third living in Santa Fe,” McMillan said.  “I would note... about 35 percent are native New Mexicans. It’s going to continue to be the case in the future.”

McMillan also noted that their hiring criteria has not been about hiring a replacement for the retiree, but looking closely at the lab’s future mission and anticipating what type of person it’s going to need in the near future to fulfill that mission.

“Our hiring is occurring across all those different areas of the laboratory,” he said.  “Of course we need scientists, we need engineers, we need technicians. We also need business people we need people who work in safety areas of the laboratory, and so we’re hiring across all those areas because we’re seeing retirements in all those areas.

“I believe that’s good news for students here in New Mexico and for our New Mexico colleges and universities who are preparing students,” he said.

Councilor Chris Chandler asked McMillan what the council could do to help the lab with its hiring process.
“One issue I raised  that I talked about is the workforce. Almost half of the people that we hired last year are under 35 and so, a consequence of that  is many of them will have young families,” McMillan said.

In his talk with employees that fit that category, McMillan said many of them enjoy or would enjoy having a five minute commute as it helps simplify their lives when it comes to raising children.

“Ensuring an environment where quality education is valued I think is something that particularly because of our community, that’s an important piece. When people are looking at the lab, they’re looking at the school systems too,” McMillan said.

“The second thing that has become a growing issue for us is having available housing.

There are probably many different levels in the housing scale, but if they can’t find housing here, they’ll go to the valley, they’ll go to Santa Fe, and those are certainly good options,” McMillan said.

“As I said earlier, a third of our workforce is kind of distributed in each of those places. To the degree that you as a county council can address that housing  question. I’ve gotten in repeatedly from the lab I offer those two things as areas for your consideration,” he said.

LANL’s budget

A week before presenting his speech to County Council, at a breakfast/open house for community leaders held on LANL’s campus, McMillan talked about the lab’s 2017 budget. He also talked about the plans for the future as the lab prepares to transition into a new management and operations contract.

During his speech, he presented the breakdown of the FY 2017 budget, where the National Nuclear Security Administration’s weapons programs make up over half of the laboratory’s FY2017 $2.5 billion budget. With the programs costing nearly $1.6 billion, he made it clear that the lab’s primary mission, to maintain and upgrade the nation’s nuclear stockpile, will not be changing.

“The lab has remained strong up to the transition period and the current missions at the lab extend way beyond the transition period,” McMillan said.

He told the audience that a new management and operations contract should be in place by October 2018.
Missions wouldn’t be anything without the people behind them, and McMillan had plenty to say about that, telling the audience the lab will always have a place for the “best and the brightest.”

“Please tell your students to come to the lab. We need them,” McMillan told the school and college administrators in the audience. He also talked about a program they are working on with three area colleges, a two-year training course that will help train students to be radiological control technicians at the University of New Mexico Los Alamos, Santa Fe Community College and Northern New Mexico Community College.

According to LANL Spokesman Nick Njegomir, the program is still in the planning stages.

“The program is a collaborative program that supports the Laboratory’s training and development for Radiological Control Technicians (RCTs). A team, led by Laboratory experts in this field, is reviewing the curriculum in collaboration with faculty from Northern New Mexico College, University of New Mexico-Los Alamos, and Santa Fe Community College,” Njegomir said in a follow-up statement. “This regional workforce-development initiative is expected to include an associate degree program as well as a professional certificate to prepare RCTs for the professional field. While in the developmental stages at this time, information sessions will be held at future dates.”

McMillan also spoke about how the lab’s supercomputers that support the lab’s main  job of maintaining the nation’s nuclear stockpile.

“What’s exciting to me is about what they do, solving the problems of nuclear deterrence,” he said.

At the heart of that mission is the lab’s Cray XC30 computer, a machine that takes up 5,200 square feet of space at the lab’s Nicholas Metropolis Center and has 19,000 compute nodes.

On a lighter note, McMIllan also talked about LANL’s commitment to the community, highlighting LANL’s plan to donate used office supply and furniture to 34 school districts and the area pueblos.

“Los Alamos Public Schools is one of the districts in the Laboratory’s Office Supply and Furniture Reuse pilot program.

The Laboratory is currently in the process of contacting Los Alamos schools and other local districts to appoint two representatives that will attend an informational meeting and tour in late September. Details of the program will be released after that meeting,” Njegomir said.

McMillan recently announced that he will be retiring  at the end of this year.