Getting our community job ready

February 9, 2022



When opportunity knocks, UNM-Taos opens the door and lets in all who wish to open a window. Taking advantage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), UNM-Taos and local partnerships have proven they can open even bigger doors and windows.

The federal WIOA legislation — signed into law in 2014 — is designed to strengthen and improve America’s public workforce system. Its goal is to help our nation’s youth and people with significant barriers to employment prepare for high-quality jobs and careers, not only through funding for their training but also through crucial wraparound supports. WIOA also assists employers with hiring and keeping skilled workers. The WIOA programming is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor and administered by each state through local workforce development boards.

UNM-Taos partners with the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions office, the New Mexico Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, and HELP New Mexico to ensure students have access to needed supportive services. UNM-Taos also works in close collaboration with the Northern Area Local Workforce Development Board to identify programming that aligns with our in-demand industries and regional development strategies. The Workforce Solutions office helps UNM-Taos identify potential students including youth, adults, and dislocated workers. Eligible youth must be between 16 and 24 years old. Eligible dislocated workers are generally people who have been terminated from their last employment and are unlikely to return to their previous industry or occupation.

“We’re not just a college — we’re job training and career development,” expressed Hannah Smith, UNM-Taos education specialist. “Through our work with our WIOA partners, our career-technical programs are breaking down the silos between education, job training, and workforce development to create a more cohesive system, including full wraparound support so people succeed.”

Like college, the program is career-specific and focuses on local and regional jobs currently in high demand such as those in healthcare, construction and trades, and hospitality. UNM-Taos programs currently eligible for WIOA funding include the following:

  • Nursing                                       
  • Early Childhood Education       
  • Certified Nursing Assistant         
  • Commercial Driver’s License       
  • Community Healthcare Worker
  • Integrative Massage Therapy
  • Construction Technology
  • Culinary Arts
  • Digital Media Arts
  • Emergency Medical Technician


Photo by Enrico Trujillo

The program, however, isn’t just centered on vocational education. To go a step further, training includes key professionalism skills, also called “soft skills,” making students better-trained all the way around. 

“Showing up to work on time, problem-solving, and clear and professional communication are some of the so-called ‘soft skills’ we teach,” Smith said. “It’s social-emotional learning too. We call them ‘soft skills’ but, really, they can be very hard to master. But it’s those skills that make sure you’re not only good at your job, but you’re also a good employee and coworker.”

Another goal of the program is to integrate High School Equivalency (HSE) students. “We really want to incorporate our community members working towards their HSE into these training programs,” Smith added. “WIOA funding can support these students to get college credit while they’re completing their HSE.” 

The most important piece of the program, she stated, is that it connects the community to high-quality job training opportunities at no cost. “We’re thinking intentionally on how we train students and get them into the workforce — how we collaborate with our partners to build robust regional job training and an improved employment system.” 

To date, the WIOA programming and partnerships have connected UNM-Taos students to over $66,000 in support. In fall 2021, UNM-Taos enrolled 18 degree- and certificate-seeking students into the program. Additionally, seven Taos Education and Career Center students were enrolled in the PowerUp program, which offers direct cash incentives to youth students wanting to earn their HSE. 

“The hope is if we enroll more people in these programs and retain them, then we are all successful,” Smith said, “making sure we and our partners are connecting people to good-paying, stable jobs. I want the system itself to be robust enough that it all works well together. A system doesn’t rest on a single person.” 

For more information on the WIOA program, email Hannah Smith at