Local educators and businesses came together last month in an effort to learn how best to prepare high school graduates for the work force.

The Valencia County Partnership for a Career Ready Community, an organization reaching out to local businesses and students to make connections, hosted a educator/employer connections day of workshops last month at the University of New Mexico-Valencia campus.

Buddy Dillow, a retired Belen Consolidated Schools teacher and principal, is the partnership coordinator for the organization.

The workshops were a chance for teachers to meet and share information with local employers and employers to share with teachers the skills used at their organizations.

Rebecca Sisneros, center, who focuses on youth engagement in her role with the Department of Workforce Solutions, sees what it takes to control a fire hose with the help of Belen Fire Chief Brett Ruff, left, and volunteer firefighter Dominic Duran, right, during a recent employee/teacher connection day at The University of New Mexico-Valencia campus.
Julia M. Dendinger | News-Bulletin photo

“I think the interaction between employers and teachers was beneficial,” Dillow said. “Teachers realize employers are there as a resource. There are connections to be made between employers and students, and teachers are the vehicles. It’s a really interesting dynamic.”

About 35 teachers attended the event, Dillow said, and he is still compiling the feedback provided for a final report.

“By connecting teachers and employers, it gives the relevance we’re looking for our students,” he said. “When a student asks, ‘Why do I need to know this?’ teachers now have a toolbox to answer.”

Dillow said part of the purpose of the partnership is to build awareness and recognition of career opportunities available both within the Valencia County community and beyond.

“When I was growing up, the only thing I knew was what was in front me — the phone company — and that’s because my dad worked for the phone company. That or construction,” he said. “I didn’t think there was anything else.”

Some of these companies are looking at internships but students won’t get that message unless teachers tell them.

“We want to keep growing and keep the interest going. We’d like to double our participation or better next year.”

Among the employers at the event were Belen Fire Chief Brett Ruff, who said the field is a combination of brains and brawn.

While firefighters have to be physically fit enough to carry 100 pounds of gear into a 1,000 degree burning building, they also have to know how to accurately convert pounds into kilograms to give correct medication doses.

“You have to know how to treat everything from a cut finger to a brain injury; do everything from put out a fire to get a rattlesnake out of a house,” Ruff told the teachers in his session.

Patience, good listening skills and the ability to work with different people is also critical, the chief said.

“We become counselors for some people during emergencies,” he said. “You have to be a problem solver. If you get a call at 2 or 3 in the morning, you can’t say, ‘I don’t know what to do.’”

Cousins Fernando and Salvador Sisneros, the third generation working at the family-owned Sisneros Bros. Manufacturing in Belen, said as fabricators, math is a key skill to employment at their shop.

“If you’re asked to make a four-inch piece of duct, you can’t just cut a four inch strip of sheet metal,” Fernando said. “You have to figure out the radius first.”

Students need basic skills, such as what he called “tape-measure math.”

“How to use a tape measure is critical. Knowing what the lines mean,” he said. “Reading — you have to be able to read a work order and ask what you’re being asked to make.”

Computer skills are also necessary — from being able to track a project through a work flow system to using computer aided drafting and manufacturing software.

The most important skills though, Salvador said are teamwork and attitude.

“Those are the big things to think about as an employee,” Salvador said. “If you have a good attitude and can work together, we can teach you the rest.”

For more information about or to get involved with the partnership, contact Dillow at [email protected] or visit their Facebook page, @VCPWRC.

Local employers that participated in the event included Valencia Animal Clinic, Clariant Corporation, Belen Fire Department, Tierra del Sol, Sisneros Brothers, Tomé Art Gallery, Fortis Construction, Los Lunas economic Development, Aristech Surfaces, Air Force Research Labs, Facebook, New Mexico PBS, UNM-Valencia and attorney Michael Griego.

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.