Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
Sandia National Laboratories expects to hire 1,900 employees this year, 1,100 of them to fill newly created positions at the lab.
That’s an unprecedented number of new hires, Scott Aeilts, Sandia’s associate labs director for mission services, told the Albuquerque Economic Forum on Wednesday morning. It’s also employing a record 500 student interns this summer, 60% of them from New Mexico schools.
“Of the 1,900 new hires, 1,100 are for brand-new positions, and the rest are to fill jobs opened up through normal attrition,” Aeilts said. “We’re struggling to get those employees. It’s a very competitive economy right now.”
Although Sandia is hiring for all lab missions, the surge in new jobs largely reflects national efforts to modernize and extend the life of the country’s nuclear weapons. Much of that work is based at Sandia.
“The nuclear weapons programs are at an all-time high,” Aeilts said. “That’s the No. 1 reason for the new positions. There’s huge demand there.”
And Sandia is working hard to recruit New Mexicans as it ramps up the workforce.
Of the lab’s 13,000 employees, including about 2,000 in California, 38% are graduates of New Mexico schools, Aeilts said. That represents an 86% increase in locally educated lab employees over the past five years.
The summer internship program particularly reflects aggressive local outreach. The lab is working closely with New Mexico universities to make sure students in science, technology, engineering and math fields acquire skills they need to compete for jobs at Sandia.
The effort includes memorandums of understanding with engineering and other schools at the state’s three research universities. About 300 of this summer’s 500 interns come from New Mexico universities, including about 100 UNM students hired into business-focused positions.
Sandia signed an agreement about two years ago with the University of New Mexico’s Anderson School of Management for the lab to help with curriculum development to better align graduates with lab needs.
“It allows us to work with the dean’s office on program and project-management curriculum to train students so they can hit the ground running at Sandia,” Aeilts said.
The lab is also structuring its summer internships to fully engage and excite students with real-world challenges and projects.
“Once they come in the door, our job isn’t done,” Aeilts said. “We want them to have a fruitful experience at the lab, not just stuff files, to get them to return after they graduate.”
Contracting with local companies has also increased, creating more jobs outside the fence. Of the nearly $1.2 billion in Sandia procurement contracts in fiscal year 2018, nearly $462 million, or about 39%, came from New Mexico companies. And about $317 million of that was channeled to small businesses.
More local jobs
That contributed to 135 new jobs last year at Sandia Science and Technology Park, where many companies set up operations to be close to Sandia and other federal entities at Kirtland Air Force Base. Nearly 2,200 people now work at 48 businesses there, said Jackie Kerby Moore, Sandia’s manager for technology and economic development.
Raytheon, for example, is working with the Air Force Research Laboratory and Sandia on directed energy systems, particularly development of new microwave weapons. That work led to 35 new positions just since January, increasing Raytheon’s local workforce to 225, said Raytheon Albuquerque site director Richard Glover.
“We’ll be adding another 50 people soon,” Glover said. “…We’re hiring as fast as we can.”
To bring more companies into Sandia’s procurement fold, and to help startups take new Sandia technologies from lab to market, Sandia established its Center for Collaboration and Commercialization at the Innovate ABQ high-tech development zone, in Downtown Albuquerque.
The center now regularly holds public events to educate existing and aspiring entrepreneurs on how to work with the lab. It held 22 events last year alone with more than 1,000 participants.
“We had a procurement open house just last week with more than 150 participants,” Kerby Moore said. “…It’s the public face of Sandia that provides access to the labs and builds linkages with our community. Partners can interact with us freely outside the gates in the heart of Albuquerque’s entrepreneurial programs.”
The lab’s local outreach is aggressively pushed by the leadership of National Technology and Engineering Solutions of Sandia, the Honeywell International subsidiary that took over lab management in May 2017 in partnership with Northrop Grumman Corp., Aeilts said.
“We’re focused on really reaching out to the community to do our part to help with economic growth,” Aeilts told the Journal. “We take it very seriously at the lab. We’re talking the talk and walking the walk.”