In 2016, I was working as an administrative assistant at Presbyterian Hospital in Española while attending classes at Northern New Mexico College in environmental sciences. Then I was invited to sit in on a radiation biology class — and everything changed.
The class was part of the Radiological Control Technician program at Northern developed in partnership with Los Alamos National Laboratory. I enjoyed the first class I attended, and the second and the third. So the following semester, I registered for the program and, in two years, I graduated with an associate degree and began working at the Laboratory, where I’ve been since. The program changed my life for the better — giving me a well-paying job in a career where I learn something new every day, work with a dedicated team, and get to use my skills and talents to help keep people — and the environment — safe.
Since I’ve been at the Lab, I’ve learned jobs like mine are in such high demand in Northern New Mexico and everywhere in the country that Los Alamos National Laboratory is working with local colleges and high schools to help students like me get education and training and grow the workforce.
The Radiation Control and Protection Competitive Academic Opportunity program at Northern’s Española campus is open for enrollment. This is a competitive program that selects up to 10 students. For the full-time students chosen, LANL covers tuition and fees. They also will be given a paid internship that will pay the student/intern while in class (based on standard NNMC contact hours), and through the beginning of the security clearance process and the move to full-time employment upon graduation with an associate degree, providing the student meets eligibility requirements. In addition to paid internships and paid tuition, students are also eligible for laboratory benefits. The starting yearly salary is in the $50,000 range.
The Lab also is partnering with Santa Fe Community College to develop an 18-month training program for machinists, a job that also sees starting salaries in the $50,000 range.
Furthermore, Los Alamos has collaborated with the New Mexico Building and Construction Trades Council to create free introductory building-trades classes for upper-level students at Taos and Questa High Schools that lead to paid apprenticeships at the laboratory ($18/hour, approximately), union membership and full-time employment. Salary ranges vary by trade but typically start in the mid-$50,000s.
About 10 percent of the Lab workforce — or 1,200 people — work in the skilled building trades. Laboratory officials expect, over the next five years, to see a complete turnover in that sector. The lab will be hiring more than 1,000 people in that area alone as it upgrades and modernizes buildings and infrastructure.
It’s also important to keep in mind that demand for these jobs is so high because they’re in demand nationwide, too. Any of these technical-degree programs can be a passport to stable, high-paying, high-demand careers here or anywhere in the country.
I would encourage anyone who is about to graduate from high school, or has already graduated and is thinking about next steps, to consider one of these programs. Or, if you or someone you know is looking for new opportunities to be part of an organization that uses science to solve national security challenges, take a look at the job openings at the laboratory. The Lab plans to hire 1,200 employees this fiscal year in all areas — a number of opportunities exist.
When I think back to my life in 2016 and where I am now, I’m proud of how far I’ve come and how lucky I am to work in a career that challenges me every day. But mostly, I realize what a great decision it was to sit in on that first radiation biology class. My future is brighter because of it. I hope you’ll find your brighter future, too.
Sabrina Duran is a radiological control technician at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Originally from Abiquiú, she lives in El Rito. This article first appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican.