Last summer, Emilio Verdone put his education into action. A student in the robotics program at the Cranston Area Career and Technical Center, he took a job at Yushin, a Cranston-based robot and automation manufacturer.
Verdone will return to Yushin this summer, thanks to a youth work experience program funded by the Governor’s Workforce Board (GWB) and the Rhode Island Department of Human Services (DHS).
“Having the opportunity to work at a robotics company was great,” Verdone said. “They made me feel like part of the team.”
The summer jobs program was launched Thursday at a press conference at the State House. During the conference, the GWB announced that they have allocated $1.5 million for the initiative, with DHS chipping in another $600,000 from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds.
“The summer work program is extremely important to the Governor’s Workforce Board,” said GWB Executive Director Rick Brooks. “Summer jobs provide real world work experience for young people and it gives them the opportunity to contribute not only to their workplaces, but to their families.”
The program will provide summer jobs to 1,500 Rhode Island youth ages 14 to 24. Participants were identified from the pool of 10,000 clients of YouthWorks411, a network of 14 youth workforce development centers throughout the state. Participants must take part in at least 20 hours of work readiness training or workforce certification, such as occupational safety or customer service training. After training, they will work for approximately 20 hours each week for six weeks starting in July, earning minimum wage.
Governor Lincoln Chafee said the soft skills, like workforce expectations and financial responsibility, learned through the program will benefit the participants into adulthood.
“It’s a great opportunity for young people to get out there in the workforce,” Chafee said. “It’s a great building block for the future of the economy.”
More than 20 community-based organizations will connect youth employees with jobs, including Comprehensive Community Action Program and the New England Laborers’ Academy. Vendors were chosen through an RFP process overseen by the Workforce Partnership of Greater Rhode Island and Workforce Solutions of Providence/Cranston. Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and Cranston Mayor Allan Fung attended Thursday’s press conference and said they were glad that their municipalities are a part of the program.
“These are the types of opportunities that everyone should have. They are having the opportunity to learn about great work skills in both the public and private sectors, helping to rebuild Rhode Island,” Fung said, calling the life and work skills “extremely valuable.”
Moreover, Taveras says the program keeps young people out of trouble.
“They’re learning how to be good members of the workforce,” he said. “For us, in the city, it’s also an issue that helps us with public safety.”
Sandra Powell, director of the Rhode Island Department of Human Services, said the presence of the mayors is indicative of the program’s collaborative power.
“We’re very excited to collaborate when it means we get to positively affect the lives of young people,” she said. “Working at a young age has a lifelong impact on young people.”
Powell began working at the age of 14, and said the tools she learned then have stayed with her. For Josmari Otero, one of last summer’s participants, she hopes that will be true for her, too. She worked at a HeadStart program last year, and this year will pursue her passion in cosmetology at a salon.
“I truly did have a hands-on experience,” she said, thanking the stakeholders for “the investment you have made in my future.”
Without that investment, Department of Labor and Training Director Charles Fogarty notes that young people could struggle in the workforce.
“If young people don’t have work experiences early on, it’s more difficult for them down the road,” he said.