Modeled on successful programs in place in other states, legislation introduced by Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston) calls for creation of a “Back to Work Rhode Island Program” to assist unemployed Rhode Islanders to get jobs and job training.
Like the programs in such states as Georgia and New Hampshire, the Rhode Island program proposed in the legislation seeks to address the concerns of both the unemployed and employers by allowing individuals to continue to collect unemployment benefits while they take part in an approved, unpaid training program with a qualified Rhode Island employer.
The legislation, 2013-H 5033, acknowledges certain facts – that Rhode Island’s unemployment rate remains the highest in the New England region; that businesses continue to have difficultly finding job candidates with appropriate knowledge and skills; that employers are hesitant to invest in training if there is a risk the investment will not result in a qualified and skilled employee.
“Employers, especially small businesses, remain uncertain about taking on new employees in the current economy, and it can be difficult for someone who is unemployed to give up benefits for a job that may not pan out, or for an entry level/training position that pays less than a benefit check,” said Representative McNamara.
Businesses facing a still weak economy, said McNamara, face real concerns about the time and money it takes to recruit, hire and train employees, who may not work out. “If employers know they can take the time to prepare an individual to do a skilled job without the upfront cost of training that worker, the decision to add to staff may be easier to make,” he said.
The “Back to Work Rhode Island Program” proposed in the bill would be overseen by the Department of Labor and Training (DLT). Individuals receiving unemployment compensation would be matched with an employer that has applied to DLT and met certain requirements. The employer would provide the individual (who would continue to receive benefits) with skill enhancement and job training relevant to an open employment position for up to 24 hours per week for up to six weeks, at the end of which the individual must be considered for permanent employment. During the six weeks of training when the individual continues to receive unemployment benefits, the employer would not compensate the individual in any way other than the training.
The bill makes the program voluntary, allowing employers to terminate participation at any time and restricting participation to the first 200 individuals determined eligible by the DLT. It also encouraged individuals seeking work to find employment opportunities that align with their current job skills and knowledge, and encourages them to end a training relationship they do not find beneficial, preserving the remainder of the six-week training period for another placement.
“There are multiple benefits to a program such as this,” said McNamara, “not least of which is that statistics show that unemployment compensation claimants who participate in employer-partnered training programs return to work more quickly than those who do not.”
“In addition, the program works with no added cost to state government, since those individuals who are collecting while in a job-training setting would be collecting benefits anyway,” he said.
“The greatest benefit is that the better this program works, the more unemployed Rhode Islanders find jobs,” said Representative McNamara. “Our top focus in this state must be getting people back to work. This program provides another tool to do that, to help people learn new skills and find work, to help businesses grow and take on more employees.”
The legislation has been referred to the House Committee on Finance. Co-sponsors include Rep. Jan P. Malik (D-Dist. 67, Barrington, Warren), Rep. Raymond E. Gallison Jr. (D-Dist. 69, Bristol, Portsmouth), Rep. James N. McLaughlin (D-Dist. 57, Central Falls, Cumberland) and Rep. K. Joseph Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick).