Lawmakers searching for answers to close skills gap
By Rhonda Miller PBN Staff Writer
Frustrated by the gap between available jobs in Rhode Island and the lack of trained workers to fill them, some state legislators are pushing for action on this stubborn chasm in the workforce.
One legislator taking steps to close the “skills gap” is Rep. Joseph McNamara, D-Warwick, who introduced the Back to Work Rhode Island Program Act of 2013 on Jan. 9. “I see neighbors who have talents and are unemployed and collecting unemployment,” McNamara said at an economic summit for House members on Jan. 17 at Rhode Island College.
The summit brought together legislators, business leaders and higher education officials for the latest in a series of efforts to kick-start Rhode Island’s ailing economy and reduce the state’s 10.2 percent unemployment rate.
“Sometimes people are hesitant about losing their unemployment benefits if they participate in a new job and it doesn’t work out,” McNamara said. “This bill gives them a chance to participate in a job for up to 24 hours a week for six weeks and collect unemployment. They don’t have to go through all the hoops to go back on unemployment after that if they don’t get a job.”
The bill states that it is intended to alleviate one investment risk faced by businesses: “In an uncertain economy, employers are hesitant to invest in training if there is a risk the investment will not result in a qualified and skilled employee.”
Under the provisions of the bill, the employer must have a full-time position open and “provide the claimant with skill enhancement and job training relevant to the open employment position.”
That elusive path to enhancing and updating the skills of Rhode Island workers was addressed by a panel focused on small-business challenges and recommendations.
“We have 78,000 unemployed workers in Rhode Island and we need a database to match existing skills with businesses of all sizes,” said Karl Wadensten, CEO of VIBCO Inc.
More use of the online EmployRI.org is an available action step, Wadensten said. EmployRI.org, which allows job seekers and employers to match skills with job openings, is part of the online-resources network used by the state Department of Labor and Training.
While skill development is a huge challenge in Rhode Island, Wadensten said businesses are also looking for workers with positive values and characteristics that align with their organizations. Getting those potential employees in contact with employers is important.