As executive director of the Governor’s Workforce Board, Richard Brooks coordinates state and federally funded programs for workforce development. Since 2005, the board has invested more than $56 million to aid the state’s employment, education and economic development. The board’s most pressing task is to help train thousands of out-of-work Rhode Islanders in desperate need of jobs. But Brooks says the board is also focused on the future and closing the skills gap that could keep local firms from growing at the pace they’d like.
PBN: What is the role of the workforce board?
BROOKS: It’s a 17-member board made up of people who represent labor, community organizations, businesses and government. They make policies and provide funding to help Rhode Islanders obtain the skills they need to do the jobs employers need. … We have a very comprehensive, five-year strategic plan that our board prepared. Recently they took the plan and identified short-term, priority objectives to guide our work over the next year.
PBN: How is that accomplished?
BROOKS: We recently formed an employment committee that is looking at employers and what they need. We work closely with employer organizations, the chambers of commerce and the state Economic Development Corp., just to name a few. We also have industry partners, seven major sectors of the business community: hospitality; health care; marine trades; construction; defense; information technology and bioscience.
PBN: How do industry partners assist the workforce board?
BROOKS: They are the links to the employers and the trade associations in their field of expertise. They provide labor-market information and identify the skills gaps, the mismatch between the time an employer has a job they want to fill versus the skills applicants bring to the table. That information is shared with the K-12 system, to the community colleges and to [universities].