Senate unveils 'Rhode to Work' action plan to address skills gap crisis
STATE HOUSE, Providence – The Rhode Island Senate today unveiled a major legislative action plan, called “Rhode to Work,” intended to tackle Rhode Island’s jobs crisis to make a real difference now. The action plan promotes job training opportunities to better prepare Rhode Island unemployed workers for jobs, and new workers for the demands of a modern economy.
“The ‘Rhode to Work’ action plan was embarked upon because, despite significant investments we have made in recent years to improve education and workforce training, businesses continue to tell us they have trouble finding workers who possess the necessary technical and social skills,” said President of the Senate M. Teresa Paiva Weed. “With unemployment at 9 percent, we are all frustrated and impatient to hear this. To address this unemployment rate and improve our state’s economy, it is critical that we take decisive action now.”
Senate Majority Leader Dominick J. Ruggerio added, “The plans we are announcing today will help workers succeed, while helping companies that are located in Rhode Island to remain here and to grow their businesses, and encouraging new companies to locate in the state. We are working to open new opportunities for learning, from pre-kindergarten through career.”
“It would be hard to overstate the importance of education and workforce training,” Senate Minority Leader Dennis L. Algiere said. “The steps outlined in the ‘Rhode to Work’ action plan provide a practical way to better prepare the Rhode Island workforce for the jobs of today and tomorrow. It is not another study, but a plan for action.”
Joining President Paiva Weed, Majority Leader Ruggerio, and Minority Leader Algiere for the announcement were many members of the Rhode Island Senate, including Senate Finance Committee Chairman Daniel Da Ponte.
Chairman Da Ponte said, “Of course, the performance of any investment made via the state budget process—whether it be a new investment or ongoing—must be carefully monitored to ensure that any proven success is not interrupted, and that any failure to meet the desired outcome is rectified promptly. I believe the Rhode to Work plan can and will help create the conditions for economic growth, by directing focused financial incentives within our state budget and holding organizations accountable. Simply put, we need to enhance what’s been working for us and change what isn’t.”
Rhode Island Foundation President and CEO Neil Steinberg also addressed the news conference.
He said, “We have spent the last 18 months working on initiatives to create jobs and grow industries. Companies are telling us that they just cannot find people who are adequately prepared to fill their openings. If we are to have a strong economy tomorrow, we must invest in the workforce today. This plan points us in the right direction,”
A package of legislation will be introduced today and in the coming weeks based on the action plan to address the present and projected skills gap. The action plan describes two separate but related problems: an inability of unemployed Rhode Islanders to find jobs that fit their skills, and concerns that the state’s workforce is not prepared for the demands of tomorrow’s economy.
The legislation will address the following key concepts:
Empowering a single, seamless, and cohesive workforce training system in Rhode Island, which would include the coordination by the Governor’s Workforce Board of the state’s career pathways and training systems, as well as increasing the number of industry-recognized credentials available in the state.
Maximizing the use of Rhode Island’s job development program by freeing up an additional $1.2 million for job training programs, requiring greater transparency and accountability of workforce development expenditures, and maintaining enhanced funding for innovative training programs.
Significantly expanding the number of internships and apprenticeships available in Rhode Island, including opening the bRIdge.jobs program to high school students and expanding the state’s current apprenticeship tax credit.
Transforming adult education by committing resources to eliminate waiting lists for unemployed or underemployed adult learners and by requiring the Department of Education to give priority to programs that minimize waiting lists by increasing program capacity and reflecting the state’s economic and workforce priorities, among other things.
Reimagining career and technical education in Rhode Island by offering a $1-million incentive to begin a disruptive new career and technical education program that fits the needs of the modern workforce.
Eliminating roadblocks to attaining high school diploma equivalency by reducing the costs for high school equivalency tests and by restoring the fee waiver for low income high school test takers.
Bridging statewide educational achievement gaps by requiring the Board of Education to prioritize adult and career and technical education programs and continuing to build upon the state’s education programs for people of all ages, including pre-kindergarten, full-day kindergarten, summer learning, and mentoring for students at risk of falling behind.
Addressing the skills gap is the Senate’s priority in order to get Rhode Island’s economy back on track, noted Senate President Paiva Weed. The focus is on building a workforce with the right skills, right now, and to match workforce development efforts with real job opportunity areas.
President Paiva Weed said, “I know that Speaker Fox and Governor Chafee share the Senate’s passion for addressing this critical issue, and we look forward to working together with them, as we have in the past, to put Rhode Islanders back to work. Working together, we will build a road to work that is easy to access, wherever you may come onto it; a road that is smooth to travel, and that leads to a bright and prosperous future for workers and the state. Working together, we will tackle Rhode Island’s jobs crisis to make a real difference now.”
The full report is posted on the General Assembly website, www.rilin.state.ri.us, under the “Reports” tab.
For more information, contact:
Greg Pare, Press Secretary for the Senate
State House Room 314
Providence, RI 02903