financial services

Conference spotlights financial literacy

Posted 12/16/11

(Corrected, Dec. 21)

PROVIDENCE – The subtle, often-overlooked ways that financial literacy can affect the workplace and career prospects were the subject of extended discussion at a conference Friday, sponsored by the Rhode Island Jump $tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy.

Approximately 75 educators, social service workers, financial aid administrators and human resources managers attended the five-hour event at the R.I. Convention Center.

“Greater personal financial capability on the part of employees is related to greater productivity, job satisfaction and job advancement,” said Jim Hedemark, conference organizer and executive director of coalition.

Debra Quinn, membership director for the Providence/Cranston Workforce Investment Board, in a panel discussion pointed out how personal financial problems can take a toll on the workplace when employees spend their workdays stressed out about money. In today’s economy, she noted, “all workers need to be totally productive.”

Tardiness, absenteeism, conflict with other workers and low morale are among the problems that can develop when an employee is constantly distracted by serious financial stress, she said. Eventually, even a company’s future can be affected because potential owners in a merger or acquisition will study the effectiveness of the work force before committing to an acquisition, she said.

Peter J. Sheil, principal with the consulting firm of Human Resources, discussed how financial incompetence can compound such problems because workers who do not understand certain employment benefits may simply opt not to receive them, depriving themselves of income. The IRS Savers Tax Credit, available to those who save for retirement, is a prime example he cited.

Financial illiteracy can be tough to hide, especially for job-seekers. Lynn Corwin, vice president and director of human resources for the United Way of Rhode Island, noted that most employers today conduct credit checks of job candidates and check social websites. “You’re not supposed to do that, but a lot of employers do,” she said of checking social sites.

Other speakers included Christopher Foote, senior economist and policy adviser with the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, and Ernest Almonte, former auditor general for Rhode Island (1994-2010) and vice chairman of the Financial Literacy Commission for the American Institute of CPAs.

Foote spoke of the employment picture in New England. In a surprising insight, he said, research he’s done shows that jobs requiring mid-level skills are the hardest to find, while high- and low-skill jobs are on the rise. Mid-level jobs would include sales personnel, office workers, administrative workers, production, craft and repair specialists, operators, fabricators and laborers.

The national growth rate for sales jobs, for instance, was 54 percent in 1979-89, dropping to 14 percent in 1989-99, 4 percent in 1999-2007 and -7 percent in 2007-2009, according to Foote’s statistics.

Almonte said he firmly believes that financial problems, regardless of how pressing they might be at the moment, can be resolved with the right approach, proper knowledge and cooperation among the individuals affected, whether the problems belong to an individual, municipality or an entire nation.

“A lot of what people believe is [financial] pressure can be solved,” he said.

Corrected comments made by Lynn Corwin.

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