A long-time Belen educator is the face of an effort to connect graduates with job opportunities in Valencia County.

Buddy Dillow, a retired teacher and principal for Belen Consolidated Schools, is now the partnership coordinator for the Valencia County Partnership for a Career Ready Community, an organization reaching out to local businesses and students to make connections.

“We really want to see what is needed in business and industry here in Valencia County,” Dillow said. “We have million dollar industries that ship internationally right here. This is a cooperative effort between the businesses and schools and community partners.”

Buddy Dillow is the partnership coordinator for the Valencia County Partnership for a Career Ready Community,

The goal of the partnership is to hone in on what employers say are the key issues they have when trying to hire recent graduates, he said.

“The biggest issue they tell us about is they just aren’t prepared. They are weak in their soft skills, like communications — both written and verbal — and little things like how to dress for an interview,” Dillow said.

The partnership was formed specifically to meet the employment need/gap in Valencia County through education, guidance, community involvement and support.

The members of the partnership are private and public partners, including representatives from the educational, business and governmental/community based organization community.

The vision is to support Valencia County in becoming a place where employers have a strong, healthy employee population working in their businesses, where youth and community members enjoy successful careers and healthy lives.

“We want to cover as much ground as we can to give students a fighting chance to hit the ground running,” he said.

Getting students prepared for the workforce is something Dillow has been involved with since he was a principal, setting up mock interviews and organizing job fairs.

“We want to introduce students to local businesses. Employers have been good about sharing what has been problematic for them in hiring,” he said. “A lot of times it’s just about the ability to take direction, if they’re willing to learn.”

Dillow said a lot of times, recent graduates just entering the workforce make simple mistakes, like giving a bad first impression.

“Some kids don’t know how to present themselves,” he said. “You don’t walk into a job interview in your PJs. A lot of these things are simple to learn. Together, with a positive attitude, their chances of landing a job are very good.”

If graduates and students aren’t sure about a career path, Dillow said the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions’ website, nmcareersolutions.com, offers some very helpful tools.

The career exploration tool will help anyone build a profile that will match them with jobs based on their interests.

There is also the “Why I Work” tool, which helps build a long term budget.

“The budgeting really holds their interest,” Dillow said. “It makes them think about what they want in the future. A car? A house? I get them to look at whether they can earn enough to accomplish their goals.”

In addition to working with recent graduates and students, Dillow is making connections with the local business community, and putting together a database of businesses throughout the county. So far, more than a dozen local businesses are part of the database.

The businesses that are willing to be a part of the partnership are asked to provide basic information, such as what they manufacture of the service they provide, whether they have job openings, and if they are willing to participate in events such as career fairs, mock interviews or internships.

“There’s been a lot of effort put into this. People are willing to help and have been pulling together resources for the community,” Dillow said.

For more information about or to get involved with the partnership, contact Dillow at buddydillow@yahoo.com or visit their Facebook page, @VCPWRC.

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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.