One of the reasons why New Mexico has the second highest poverty rate in the United States is a significant number of people who want to work can’t find employment.
This is especially true in Albuquerque, where almost 40 percent of students don’t graduate from high school and more than 30,000 people are unemployed.
But there is hope for a growing number of Albuquerque residents who are working with Innovate+Educate, a Santa Fe-based nonprofit agency whose workforce development program links workers and employers.
“In New Mexico, there aren’t many people who get a four or even two-year degree. So there needs to be more opportunities for non-traditional pathways to jobs,” said Jamai Blivin, CEO of Innovate+Educate. “Higher-level education is a good thing, but the state needs quick pathways to sustainable jobs too.”
In 2013, with the support of local leaders and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Innovate+Educate opened a site in Albuquerque called TalentABQ, aimed at helping those who have struggled to find work get a “leg up” in the job search process.
Using a methodical skills-based hiring model, TalentABQ assesses and builds job seekers’ qualifications and credibility to access a new job. The core foundational skills that are measured through Talent ABQ are found across 95 percent of all jobs in the U.S. The skills assessments help employers identify job readiness, provides return on investment to their hiring and has shown lower costs to hire and train once they hire candidates. It also provides jobseekers new ways to “show their skills” rather than traditional methods such as degrees.
Job applicants begin by taking a WorkKeys® assessment — available for free at community sites and partnering agencies across Albuquerque — which examines practical job skills like “workplace observation,” or being vigilant of one’s surroundings, rather than traditional academic subjects. After the assessment, training providers across the region work to coach job seekers and help them build on their skills by offering training on everything from resume building to Microsoft Excel.
According to Blake Graves, a teacher at Goodwill Industries of New Mexico, one of the partnering testing and training sites, TalentABQ is making job training more accessible to New Mexicans traditionally excluded from the job market and helping them recognize their qualifications.
“Everyone has slammed the door on their faces and we open it wide to everyone who may benefit: high school dropouts, senior citizens, master’s degree holders, those who have been laid off, those who are formerly incarcerated and more,” said Graves. “We work to create a personalized path to success, tailored to fit their needs, their goals and desire for the future.”
Already, TalentABQ is connecting residents, many of whom face significant barriers, to long-awaited jobs. For others, like Franklin Benson, the program is providing an opportunity to make a career shift.
Benson, 34, works as an orderly at the University of New Mexico hospital, but hopes TalentABQ will help him become a corrections officer. Benson was required to take the WorkKeys® assessment and reach a certain benchmark to be considered for the position.
While the testing process wasn’t easy — Benson took, studied and retook the test multiple times to reach his desired score — he credits the program with helping him in the application process and landing an interview. Benson, who is working on the next steps in the extensive hiring process, said he recommends the program to anyone looking for a new job.
The program isn’t just for job-seekers. In a metropolitan job market like Albuquerque, where turnover can be high, finding the right people to fill positions can be just as challenging for many employers.
With close to 500 people on their payroll throughout New Mexico, Brewer Oil, an Albuquerque-based oil company in operation for 50 years, chose to use WorkKeys® as a tool to hire candidates who could develop into managerial positions, thus improving overall job retention, said Tom Hennessey, Brewer Oil’s director of retail operations.
“We were getting applications with too little information. Standardized testing that measures skill sets in Algebra and English didn’t correlate with how well a person would be as a supervisor at one of our convenience stores,” Hennessey said. “[WorkKeys® assessments] give us a better snapshot of the individual based on who they are, what they’ve done, and where they’ve been before sitting down to interview.”
Innovate+Educate’s findings show that job performance is twice as effective a predictor of future performance as an academic degree, and a cognitive skills test like WorkKeys® is five times more predictive of job success than years of education.
According to Blivin, the model has been successful at reducing turnover rates by 73 percent and time-to-hire rates by 60 percent. It’s also revealed a “hidden talent pool” in their partnering cities.
“Only 1 percent of high risk youth can secure a job without a degree, but 33 percent of those same youth actually possess the skills needed to perform the same job,” said Blivin.
Creative workforce solutions like Innovate+Educate’s TalentABQ provide much more than a means for Albuquerque residents to find a job — they reimagine pathways toward upward economic mobility.
“Innovate+Educate and their skills-based assessment tool have so much promise because we can focus on the work that matters as related to the direct connection to employment,” said Vicki Mora, CEO of AGC New Mexico, an Innovate+Educate partner. “And with programs like this, that’s where New Mexico is going to do really great work.”