Equipping our workforce to fill the jobs of today


To the Editor:

Jobs. Jobs. Jobs.

Across the nation, employment remains the most important issue that Americans want to see government address, both nationally and locally. It is an especially pertinent issue in Rhode Island, which posted one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation during the darkest days of the recent recession, and which still has one of the highest jobless rates in the country.

Significant legislative initiatives have been advanced by the Rhode Island Senate the past few years to strengthen economic development in the state. But a stronger economy, a place for businesses to grow and create jobs, also requires a workforce prepared to assume those jobs, a populace skilled in the jobs of the new century. In Rhode Island, the lack of jobs is compounded by the fact that not enough of our residents possess the skills necessary to do the kinds of technical, high-proficiency work that businesses need done.

The need to address workforce development was a close second in importance in the Senate in the efforts of that chamber this year. Several important bills were passed and enacted into law that concentrate on preparing workers for the jobs that we hope to attract to our state and to provide the support would-be workers need to take those jobs.

Included in the Fiscal Year 2014 budget was creation of a Back to Work program, which will provide individuals collecting unemployment security benefits with planned, structured and career-relevant job training at companies looking to hire. Also enacted into law was legislation directing the Department of Labor and Training to establish manufacturing standards for pre-apprenticeship or training agreements so that older youth can obtain job exposure.

The budget also included funding to create a pilot childcare assistance transition program for families on the verge of losing all childcare assistance if they receive a slight increase in income. Another initiative, also encompassed in the budget, will provide short-term childcare for qualifying families so that the family members can participate in training, apprenticeship, internship and on-the-job training programs.

An enhanced jobs match program, based on legislation I have sponsored the past few years, was also included in the state budget. This program calls for creation of an easy-to-use, web-based program for employers and job seekers to identify and address skill gaps among job seekers. The program will ensure that the labor force is equipped with the skills employers need, that workforce development is a focus at all levels of government and education, and that the state continues to build partnerships to achieve greater success in addressing skill gaps.

I am especially proud of this particular bill because the end result is to strengthen statewide interagency collaborations, enhance the current state workforce development and job match system and address skill gaps in a manner that aligns with business and industry needs. The legislation acknowledges that the state’s career pathways system must be driven by business and industry needs and calls on the state to make a focused effort to provide easy access for businesses to find competent employees and for job seekers to obtain necessary resources, training and skills development.

There is no doubt that Rhode Island is taking the steps necessary to rebuild our economy, to make the state more attractive for businesses to locate here and grow here, to clear away bureaucratic impediments that will lead to the creation of more good jobs for Rhode Island job seekers. But businesses will not create jobs where there is not a workforce ready and able to do those jobs. The actions taken during the 2013 General Assembly session puts us on a path to accomplish both goals.

James C. Sheehan

Senator-District 36

Narragansett, North Kingstown


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