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Nevada is churning out nurses and teachers: but are they thinkers?

Las Vegas Strip

During the pandemic, there was a nursing shortage. When school started this year, there was a massive teacher shortage.

It’s nothing new. We’ve heard the same stories for decades in Nevada. In the same breath, we also heard the words “workforce development.”

The concept: to create a viable workforce to fill the needs of the community and business.

To help fill that need, more than 20 years ago a college was set up in Henderson that focused largely on training new nurses and teachers.

But how are they trained?

Some ask if it’s enough just to teach students a skill, because during the pandemic we also had nurses in Nevada who vowed never to take the COVID-19 vaccine. This, in the face of research that demonstrated the vaccine as the most viable option to avoid serious illness or death.

Nevada is always talking about workforce development. We want and need that, but does it mean focusing so much on the need that critical thinking—which relies heavily on logical reasoning—is left behind?

Across the board, companies are finding difficulty in finding new employees, said Bill Reginhart, the development director for the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance. 

In a meeting with several manufacturers just last week, one of the challenges they're having is bringing in not even a skilled workforce, just a workforce,” he said. “People that can show up, that have critical thinking skills, people that they can train up in order to satisfy the jobs that they have available.”

Advanced manufacturing, logistics and distribution centers, hospitality, teaching and nursing all have large needs.

In discussing the nursing needs, Reginhart said in a newer industry sector partnership, they’re not just talking about local talent remaining in the state, they’re talking about licensure from other states or countries and reciprocity. 

Irene Bustamante Adams, deputy director and chief strategy officer, Workforce Connections, said it’s a collaborative effort. 

“The leaders in this community have gathered together and are putting the employer in the center of that conversation,” she said. “They are leading the conversation, not the other way around.”

She also mentioned the need for “soft skills” – critical thinking, showing up on time, hungry and eager to learn, and a positive attitude. “You can take those for granted, but they can train those individuals.”

Being able to problem solve is important here, she said, especially when something is project-based. 

Nevada State College was founded in 2002, largely to help the state meet a growing need for teachers and nurses. Its president, DeRionne Pollard, said they’re learning in context. While a nursing student may be learning technical terms and procedures, they’re also learning how that relates directly to their field.

“Really trying to create a pathway where students understand the entire ecosystem as it relates to this particular content,” she said.

She wants to change the language of soft skills: 

“You want foundation power skills, you want high communicators, you want critical thinkers, you want people who are able to make connections, and have comfort with ambiguity. You want people who are going to be able to see a project through from beginning to end.”

Students like Emmanuel Ekigwe said he was taught all of that. He recently graduated with a business degree.

“I think those critical thinking skills are built into each of the classes,” he said. “And I can't speak to the nursing or the teaching and learning program myself, but I do have my best friend, she's a nurse. And I would see each moment that she would go through her classes and what kind of things that she was thinking about and how to become a great nurse.”

What will move workforce development forward, Adams said, is the right leaders at the table for the right time. LVGEA asked education leaders, presidents of universities including Pollard, and others, to convene recently “to figure out the entire ecosystem because it has been piecemeal before.”

Pollard said in the meantime, they’re prepared for looming automation taking the place of human workers. “Let’s have a substantive conversation about where those jobs are.”

DeRionne Pollard, president, Nevada State College;  Bill Reginhart, workforce development director, Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance;  Irene Bustamante Adams, deputy director and chief strategy officer, Workforce Connections; Emmanuel Ekigwe, graduate, Nevada State College 

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Dave Berns, now a producer for State of Nevada, recently returned to KNPR after having previously worked for the station from 2005 to 2009.