Special Program Aims to Put RI ‘Back to Work’
Monday, March 04, 2013
In a span of 24 hours, the news went from good to bad as the state’s Department of Labor and Training (DLT) released a report Thursday that said that the rate had dropped below 10 percent for the first time in 46 months and the US Bureau of Labor Statistics responded Friday with a report that the Ocean State was still, statistically, one of the worst places to find work in America in 2012.
With all that room for interpretation, it’s hard to know which track Rhode Island is on but a special program pitched by five State Senators as part of their effort to “Move the Needle” is aiming to clear up the confusion once and for all.
Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, Senate Majority Leader Dominick J. Ruggerio and Senators Dennis Algiere and Marc Cote all signed on this week to a pitch by Senator Erin Lynch that would directly address a key workforce development issue many employers in Rhode Island have said is a big reason why the state’s residents can’t find work.
Simply put: they don’t have the skills needed for the positions available.
BACK TO WORK
According to the Economic Progress Institute, nearly half of the jobs in Rhode Island are middle-skill occupations which require more than a high school education but less than a four-year degree. The problem, they say, is that “only 37 percent of the workforce has the skills to fill those jobs.”
And that’s the idea behind the “Back to Work Rhode Island” initiative.
Modeled after a pair of successful programs in Georgia and New Hampshire, the proposal put forth by Lynch would take unemployed residents of Rhode Island who have had difficulty finding positions and match them up with companies who have work but are looking for qualified employees.
While the state can’t address any potential education gaps, it can address experience gaps and help employees who might be a good fit for a position get the training they need to overcome any deficiencies in their resume.
The companies would train the prospective employees over the course of six weeks, at no expense to their bottom line, and the employees themselves would receive “payment” through their current unemployment benefits.
“The idea is that the unemployed workers would gain some skill so it would be more like a training period of time as opposed to going and working for a company while you’re collecting unemployment,” Lynch said this week. “The hope is that the business will give training and not necessarily have to pay for it in tough economic times.”
KEEP IT MOVING
But can it work?
Lynch says it’s worth a try, particularly because it comes at “no cost” to the state.
“This legislation provides valuable on-the-job training for unemployed workers who need new skills and a chance to prove themselves,” she said. “Job-seekers get a chance to assess the company, gain valuable skills, fill in gaps of inactivity in their work history, and demonstrate what they can do for prospective employers. Ideally, they are a good match and they find long-term employment. In any event, they gain valuable skills training which will help them in their job search.”
The program, as pitched by Lynch, likely wouldn’t require any other changes to state law since it is run through the DLT itself and, after the six-week period, the employer and employee could decided whether or not they’re a fit.
Lynch says she believes the program is a much-needed help for businesses in the state who are struggling financially and may not have the funds to take a risk on a candidate for their open positions who may need a little help.
“I think any company that has to give their employers some type of training,” she said. “Whether it’s a big company, a small business, I think everybody is looking for help and I think everybody is cash-strapped at this point so getting some labor but also having the ability to train some people without it kind of breaking the bank for the company I think is a win-win for everybody.”
The ‘Back to Work” idea, Lynch says, is just one of the ways the Senate is working to turn Rhode Island’s unemployment rate around and while it might not solve the entire problem right away, she believes it’s a key step in implementing the ideas behind the “Moving the Needle” report issued by the Senate last month.
“All the pieces have to move together and if you try to do things piecemeal and one at a time, you don’t always get the result that you’re looking for,” Lynch said. “I think as all of these things get better, the unemployment rate will decrease. The hope is that all the things will happen in conjunction with one another.”
In the meantime, she says, the Senate will keep its eyes on the state’s unemployment rate like everyone else and hope to see a positive change.
“I think that the senate has really done a lot to make sure that we continue to focus on the economy and job growth,” she said. “It’s not a good thing that we have such a high unemployment rate and nobody’s pleased with it and I think we’re trying to do whatever we can to try to change that.”
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