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Rob Horowitz: Rhode Island Must Upgrade Its Workforce

Tuesday, December 04, 2012


The good news is Rhode Island is emerging from the Great Recession; unemployment is beginning to head downward, private-sector job creation is stepping up a bit; and state government is on a more sound fiscal course. The bad news is that unless we upgrade the skills of our workforce we are never going to escape economic mediocrity and realize our true potential.

The average private sector worker in Rhode Island earns $43,526-- a wage 9 percent below the national average. Rhode Island ranks fourth out of the six New England states in average private sector wages, with our neighbors in Connecticut and Massachusetts who work in the private sector earning nearly 40 percent more on average.

Rhode Island’s lagging private sector wages are largely attributable to a workforce that is not competitive with its New England neighbors. For example, the state ranks last in New England in the percentage of residents age 25 and over who have graduated from high school and next to last in the overall percentage of residents who have college degrees. In Rhode Island, those with a college education earn on average $20,000 more annually than those with a high school education.
As education and technical skills become increasingly important this situation will only worsen. A recent RI Department of Labor and Training Report states “(a)s…the economy becomes more sophisticated better educated and higher skilled workers will have greater opportunities while the poorly educated, the unskilled and those unable to adapt to the demands of technological innovation will continue to face major obstacles as they seek to secure good paying jobs.” In a world economy, where capital is mobile, a skilled workforce will become even more essential to attracting and keeping new businesses.
As many of the dedicated people attempting to improve our workforce note, our current system for improvement is fragmented and under funded. A sustained and comprehensive policy response is required, including -- but not limited to -- stepped-up custom job training at the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI); expanded adult literacy efforts; a stronger effort to connect college students with in-state employers through expanded internship programs; and increasing the affordability of public higher education. Building on some encouraging signs and dramatically improving K-12 public education in our state is another big key. Achieving substantial reductions in the high school drop-out rate must be part of this better performance.
As both the Governor and the General Assembly look to make economic development a high priority in 2013, it is critical that workforce improvement play a key role -- after all, our economic future depends on it.

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.

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I think you miss the point that our highly educated children who grew up in Rhode Island are leaving for opportunities elsewhere. We have plenty of competent graduates ready to fill positions, unfortunately for Rhode Island, they see the best economic opportunities where the state doesn't suck the life out of the economy with programs to "grow" jobs. Businesses, when allowed to thrive, grow jobs. We don't live in a state that allows businesses to thrive.

Comment #1 by John Ward on 2012 12 04

Dear Libertard Enabler,

I am one of those "highly educated" who grew up in RI, love RI and wanted to stay in RI. What happened when I tried to get a teaching job in our great state, every door was slammed in my face by an out-dated union system based on seniority and inside politics. Left with no choices, forced to leave and go to a state that hasn't any union restrictions, Texas. In the course of 6 years here, I have been able to land 3 teaching jobs. There are people that I went to school with in RI who are still waiting tables, hoping against hope for one of the elusive job openings and a prayer to get an interview, much less a job.

Your numbers, much like your content, are laughable. According to the Providence Business News, here are the numbers that matter:

Rhode Island’s business climate tax 2012 score included:

Corporate tax rank, 40.
Individual income tax rank, 36.
Sales tax rank, 24.
Unemployment insurance tax rank, 50.
Property tax rank, 46.

sitting at No. 46 ahead of: Vermont, California, New York and New Jersey.

All of your points in this article wreak of outdated, liberal, government will fix everything thinking. You must first attract business, then the workforce will ramp up to meet demand, not the other way around.

Comment #2 by Silence Dogood on 2012 12 04

After the first paragraph, the Michael Savage quote, "liberalism is a mental disorder" flashed through my mind.

Comment #3 by David Beagle on 2012 12 04

Hilarious David Beagle.

Comment #4 by tom brady on 2012 12 05

this is total gibberish...heard it before in other cities Net Roots Nation , RI Future tom sgouros nonsense......
here's the reality of what happens next , if your nonsensical policies prevail


Comment #5 by michael riley on 2012 12 05

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