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Boosting youth employment is new “lofty” goal

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A reduction in youth unemployment is the “lofty ambition and lofty goal” of the state’s new workforce development strategy driven largely by a sweeping overhaul of federal labor law, Workforce Solutions Secretary Celina Bussey told a business group on Wednesday.

The unemployment rate for New Mexico’s youth was 23.7 percent in 2014, eighth-highest among states and well above the national average of 19.5 percent, she said at a breakfast meeting of the Albuquerque Economic Forum.

“We all know the consequences when our young people are not in school and not out there working,” she said.

The federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which took effect in June, places far greater emphasis on education and training than before. The Department of  Workforce Solutions is the state agency that administers the act.

During the current fiscal year, New Mexico is receiving $13.6 million in federal funding related to the act. The new emphasis requires that 40 percent of the funds budgeted at the local level be spent on education and training, compared to closer to 15 percent in the past.

“Work-based learning programs like on-the-job training, pre-apprenticeship programs and internships are a major focus of youth workforce development” under the new act, Bussey said.

The rationale behind the emphasis on youths, broadly defined as 14-26 years old, is basically the hope that they can be repositioned in the labor force before they age into job paths requiring little skill and a low level of literacy.

Youth workforce development is also shifting from targeting school students considered at risk to those who have dropped out or are otherwise not getting an education, Bussey said. At the state level, partners in the effort are the public education and higher education departments.

When asked if there were differences in youth labor data between New Mexico and a state like Colorado where marijuana is legal, Bussey said, the legalization movement is too recent for its effects on the labor market to be known.

“We need to see how it turns out over the next two to four years,” she said.