14 April 2023
Young people in rural Nevada face particularly difficult challenges as they seek to take the important first steps along the path that will lead to a rewarding career. Overcoming these challenges and ensuring that Nevada realizes its bright potential, requires focused partnerships of leaders from business, education and government.
The numbers are stark: Young people in nearly every county in the state consistently experience unemployment rates at least double those of older workers, and the unemployment rates among young Nevadans generally have been higher than the comparable national averages for years. During the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the jobless rate for young workers across Nevada spiked to nearly 23 percent, but even during the boom times before the pandemic’s economic shock, the unemployment rate in that group was 10 percent.
At the same time that young workers are unable to find jobs, employers have struggled to find enough workers to fill thousands of open positions in small towns and big cities across Nevada. Some of the fastest growing sectors of the state’s economy — clean energy, mining, leisure and hospitality, construction — have a significant presence in rural Nevada and a growing need for qualified workers. The state government, itself an important employer in rural Nevada, recently was searching for workers to fill about 4,500 open positions.
We all know that the health of rural Nevada communities depends on the creation of a solid economic base, and a vibrant economy is possible only when employers have an adequate workforce. But a variety of barriers stand between young people and good jobs.
The importance of programs like the nonprofit Jobs For Nevada’s Graduates (J4NG) are dramatically illustrated by the J4NG graduation rate at Round Mountain High School where 100 percent of the students have graduated for several years. Compare that to the graduation rate at rural high schools — about 85.8 percent in 2019. It is about the same as the rate at urban high schools in Nevada. But that’s still too low, and Nevada ranks near the bottom in the United States in this important measure. About 9 percent of the high school students in Nevada attend rural high schools, and every student who drops out before graduation faces a far more difficult career path in the future.
Rural students are challenged, too, by the sheer size of the school districts they attend. Lincoln County has 993 students in an area of 10,634 square miles — 0.09 students per square mile. Clark County, by comparison, has 41 students per square mile, and Washoe has 10 students per square mile. While students at rural schools typically perform well on standardized testing, it’s tough for school districts to deliver services such as career counseling to schools spread across lightly populated regions.
Students in rural communities are less likely, too, to be exposed to a wide variety of career alternatives. In a community without a hospital, for instance, students may not be aware of potential careers in health sciences. Many successful adults learned about their current career from talking with an adult family friend who knew the ropes, but informal contacts with knowledgeable adults from a wide variety of careers are fewer in small communities. And students who grow up in poverty — a group that includes a full 25 percent of rural Nevadans aged 14-18 — may be even less likely to be exposed to career opportunities or understand the resources that are available to help motivated young people get on a path to success.
Partnerships between business executives, school leaders and government officials are critical to improving the career pipeline. Kinross, in its partnership with J4NG, is a leader in connecting youth to excellent employment and training opportunities. Last year, 32 students from Tonopah and Round Mountain (both small schools) visited the Kinross Round Mountain gold mine to learn about the multitude of excellent career opportunities they have in their own rural community. The Kinross team visited 11 high schools in Clark County to expose and encourage urban youth who may be inclined to seek a change of pace in their career to learn about mining careers.
For instance, J4NG has worked with more than 3,300 students in 60 schools across Nevada to help them learn about career pathways, build the skills necessary in the workplace and get the support they need to complete their high school education and find success in their first jobs. The success of J4NG during the past 10 years has been built on employers small and large that share their experiences, visit classrooms, host tours, provide mentoring and offer internships.
Earlier this year, for example, 32 students from the J4NG program at Tonopah High School traveled to Round Mountain, where they spent a day learning about the wide variety of career opportunities available at the Kinross Nevada mine. They learned about careers at the mine in nursing, IT, equipment operation — even as certified drone pilots. Throughout their visit, the students asked about educational requirements and the pathways to good-paying jobs just an hour away from their hometown.
Every step that business leaders take to build connections and expand partnerships with schools is important. Every step that state officials and school leaders take to encourage workforce development and career exploration is equally important.
As they work together to strengthen these initiatives, Nevada’s leaders play an important role in creation of a solid economic future. Even more important, they generate excitement among young people who prepare themselves for bright, productive futures in the state that we all love.
Neil Jensen is the vice president and general manager of Kinross Nevada in Round Mountain. He has worked at Kinross for more than a decade and is passionate about promoting workforce opportunities in mining to Nevada’s youth. He holds a Bachelor of Science in business studies operations management and project management from Southern New Hampshire University and a degree in engineering/industrial management from Arizona State University.
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