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Industry / State Collaboration Needed in R.I. to Address Job vs. Skill Gap
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Straddled by states with recovering economies, Rhode Island struggles to recover from the Great Recession. The unemployment rate, as low as 4.8% in 2007, skyrocketed to nearly 12% in 2009. Despite some improvement, unemployment in Rhode Island remains at 10.7%, the second highest in the nation.
Last night at Rhode Island College, business and community leaders gathered to answer the question: Does Rhode Island suffer from a skills gap or a jobs gap? As it turns out, the answer is: BOTH.
There are over 9,500 job openings throughout the state, but nearly 60,000 residents can’t find employment. Even if these 60,000 residents had the skills to fill the 9,500 open positions, there would still be over 50,000 residents out of work.
So why are the jobs going unfilled? Tim Herbert, CEO of Atrion Networking Corporation, says that for every 100 applications he receives for an IT job, only one or two candidates have the tech skills, professionalism and integrity for which the company is looking. Thirty years ago, his company hired people based upon their technical skills alone—but these employees were not successful. Now, he focuses on candidates with strong moral character; skills can be honed on the job.
Rick Brooks, Executive Director of the Governor’s Workforce Board, responded by taking a shot at the private sector: employers who are dissatisfied with applicants should be offering more internships, training and apprenticeships. There is no reason that jobs should be unfilled for months on end when so many residents are unemployed.
And yet, George Nee, President of the AFL-CIO and Member of the Governor’s Workforce Board, argues that the state should be taking greater responsibility for workforce development.
Perhaps the most effective solution lies somewhere in between. A poll of audience members found that 51% believed the state should fund workforce-training programs, but these programs should be implemented by the industry.
Addressing the skills gap is certainly a start, but the state must also foster a stronger business climate in order to create new jobs. Panelist Richard Nischo, Graduate of the RIC Outreach Program, was displaced from his manufacturing job in November 2009 at age 59. He has since found new employment, but it was a long, gritty process to try to reinvent himself at this stage in his career. Nischo’s story is just one of many that echo this sentiment.
By creating a friendlier business environment, Rhode Island can attract companies or encourage existing companies to expand operations.
Tackling this subject from both ends—creating new jobs and training workers for these job opportunities—will be required for Rhode Island to address its perpetual jobs/skills mismatch.
Read more about the Publick Occurrence Forums sponsored by the Providence Journal.
Is Rhode Island’s state of economic affairs that different that the state of our urban communities? What is your city doing to foster workforce development, particularly for displaced workers?
RI has so much potential and I really hope to see it succeed ever more.
By George E. Bourguignon, Jr. on 01/05/2013
BY Amanda Maher on October 11th, 2012
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