Efforts underway to get people back to work as pandemic causes record unemployment

Efforts to get people back to work include offering training and job fairs

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The head of the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions said the coronavirus and the economic conditions in the state are intricately linked.

“The first thing we need to talk about in terms of the situation we have is getting the virus under control,” Cabinet Secretary Bill McCamley told the Legislative Finance Committee on Aug. 26 during a meeting in Red River that can be viewed online at nmlegis.gov.

McCamley described for the panel the current situation and some strategies his department is using to get people back to work. 

The Legislative Finance Committee began its three days of meetings in Red River on Aug. 26. Upcoming agenda topics include education and broadband access.

The COVID-19 pandemic closed businesses and caused record numbers of unemployment claims.

Bill McCamley, cabinet secretary for the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions, gestures during an interview with The Daily Times staff on July 11, 2019.

6 times more claims than during the Great Recession

According to information presented to the committee, more than 197,000 New Mexicans applied for unemployment in July, which is six times more than during the peak of the Great Recession in 2009. Unemployment is approximately 13% in the state, and some businesses that have closed will not reopen.

The counties that saw the largest growth in unemployment included San Juan, Taos, Lea and Santa Fe counties. These counties relied on industries like accommodation and food services, retail trade, healthcare and social assistance and natural resources.

McCamley said many of the people who have lost their jobs and are relying on unemployment benefits are concerned about their health and their family’s health when they return to work.

“That is one of the biggest roadblocks we have to people wanting to go back to work,” he said.

Job fairs, apprenticeships and more training

McCamley highlighted some of the ways that his department is trying to help people return to work, including providing regular virtual training on resume building, interview skills and soft skills.

“Our goal is to start having one big job fair a month for the foreseeable future,” he said.

Bill McCamley, the cabinet secretary for the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions, during a visit to Farmington on July 11, 2019.

The first one will be for Pattern Energy Group Inc., which is developing 2,200 megawatts of wind energy generation on more than 30,000 acres in the east central portion of the state.

The department of workforce solutions is also working to grow apprenticeships and to provide support for people in apprenticeship programs.

Some of the new apprenticeship programs include rural water, Affordable Solar and a commercial driver's license program offered through San Juan College.

Other options for New Mexicans who have lost their jobs include returning to school.

Central New Mexico Community College President Tracy Hartzler said some of the people who have lost their jobs will be seeking careers in other fields. That is where higher education is important.

“People need more training to achieve their goals and financial security,” she said.

Hartzler said the non-degree programs, including certificates the college offers, are a popular option for gaining and refining skills.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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