President Barack Obama couldn’t get a national version of Georgia’s popular on-the-job-training program for the unemployed through Congress, but local companies and other supporters of the idea hope a similar program will be created in Rhode Island this year.
Three bills pending in the General Assembly would allow employers to take on Rhode Islanders collecting unemployment who would be allowed to continue collecting while they develop job skills for six to eight weeks. At the end of the training period, the company would have the option to either hire the trainee full time or let them return to the unemployment rolls.
“It gives employers and employees an opportunity to try someone new without much risk,” said Rep. Joseph M. McNamara, D-Warwick, the sponsor of one of the bills. “I believe some workers with a long period of unemployment have become gun-shy about trying something new because they had such a hard time getting on unemployment. They worry that, if they try something new, they will have to do it all over again if it doesn’t work.”
For employers, the program allows them to try out and train a worker at no cost and no risk.
“I can’t believe this has not been done here already – it makes so much sense to me as a small-business owner,” said Bill Ostendorf, president of Creative Circle Media in East Providence. “I want to hire people, but the return on investment is six months down the road after I have to train them, get them oriented and get them started. If I could do those things while they were still on unemployment, it would be a win-win.”
The Georgia Works program was launched in that state in 2003 and quickly became popular with other states, including New Hampshire, which designed their own versions of the idea.
Obama included it in his ill-fated national jobs package last fall.
In addition to receiving their weekly unemployment checks, workers participating in Georgia Works get a $240 stipend, paid by the state, for 24 hours of work/training per week. The program lasts eight weeks before companies either have to hire the workers or let them go.