In spring 2022, the City of Las Cruces Economic Development Department teamed up with Doña Ana Community College (DACC) Workforce Development and Career Readiness Department to offer several computer skills training courses for Las Cruces and Doña Ana County residents. The courses range from the basics of computer operation and the use of common apps like MS Office to a course that pushes students’ MS Excel skills to the next level. Each course results in an industry-recognized credential that helps verify the level of expertise and skills that the participants gain.
Technology, internet access, and digital tools have become essential to perform basic life functions and to access education, medical care, and public services. The COVID-19 pandemic shined a spotlight on how severe the digital divide is in Doña Ana County and southern New Mexico. For instance, when classes went online in March 2020, DACC students in certificate and degree programs and Adult Education courses struggled to complete coursework with their phones sitting in their cars in parking lots. Many students dropped some of their courses or had to withdraw for a semester or two. Similarly, small business owners in the county struggled to use technology to apply for relief and grant resources, reach their customer base, and move operations online, if applicable.
In addition to tech know-how, broadband availability in the county continues to present a major barrier to our residents. According to current data from the NMSU Center for Community Analysis, 22% of households in Las Cruces have no internet subscription, 38% of households in the southern part of the county have no internet subscription and 44% in the northern (Hatch) part of the county have no internet subscription. For the county, of the households earning less than $20,000 annually, almost half have no internet service at home.
Digital inclusion is a crucial element for community members to not only be able to access healthcare, education, and social services, but also to become active creators and users of digital tools to enhance their agency. Furthermore, most jobs today require some level of digital literacy. In retail and food service positions, e-commerce, online shopping components, and online food delivery have dominated the sector since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down traditional, face-to-face customer service operations. Employees with foundational digital skills are desired, even demanded.
Happily, Opportunity Las Cruces had a good response from community members who took advantage of free training to enhance their computer skills and employability. Participants can also take advantage of DACC career advisors to assist them in seeking new employment opportunities or finding a better career. Most of our current participants noted that they were interested in exploring a new career. When asked about their employment goals, responses fell into five different categories: 1) to secure full time employment, 2) to find a better job, 3) to advance in their field, 4) to find a new job, and 5) to learn additional work skills. The positions that they reported holding in the past are administrative assistant positions, custodial/housekeeping, construction, food services, bookkeeping, teaching, home health, retail, and social work.
From January to March, DACC Workforce Development and Career Readiness Department trained 47 people in three courses: Beginning Computer Basics, Digital Foundations, and Microsoft Excel. An additional three courses will be offered in late spring. During the summer, starting in July, we are planning a new series of digital skills courses, including Foundations, Web Development/Coding and Amazon Web Services (AWS). If you or someone you know may be interested in taking courses, please contact the DACC Workforce Development and Career Readiness department at (575) 527-7776 or firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are a business owner who has job opportunities or would like to recruit from our pool of participants, please also feel free to reach out to us.
Mary Ulrich, Director, DACC Workforce Development & Career Readiness