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Bill would expand tech apprenticeship programs

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Some high-paying technology companies in New Mexico say they want to expand, but can’t find residents qualified to fill open positions.

U.S. Senator for New Mexico Martin Heinrich wants to create a pipeline of talent for those businesses by increasing access to technology apprenticeship programs, which he aims to support with the co-sponsored CHANCE in Tech act.

Central New Mexico Community College has already developed an IT apprenticeship program, known as "NMITAP." Students take classes while working with local firms like UnityBPO, which signed on to develop workers qualified to serve their clients.

"To find the talent that can apply not only their character, but the skills required to support our growing business," said UnityBPO’s Abel Murrietta.

CNM and UnityBPO saw "character" in Jesse Grider, a National Guard member who says the NMITAP program gave him guidance and a career path.

"Before the apprenticeship program, I had a little real world experience but for the most part it was just me and school and school is nothing like the actual work experience," Grider said.

The CHANCE in Tech act would direct the Department of Labor to organize more "apprenticeship" programs like this one, creating pipelines from college to career.

"These technology jobs on average make about $85,000 a year," Heinrich said. "That's twice the average in New Mexico and yet we're letting a lot of them go unfilled."

If it’s passed, schools like CNM, which is using a grant right now, could get ongoing funding to help students succeed.

"We have a career coach and an advisor who works with them so even if they're a little nervous or struggling in the beginning, we have lots of support from them," CNM NMITAP Director Sue Buffington said.