PARTNERING TOGETHER: URI President David Dooley, above, facing camera, speaks during a panel discussion at last week’s Employers & Education Summit on how the public and private sectors working together can help better prepare students for the current labor climate. He says R.I. needs more affordable pathways to higher education.
PBN PHOTO/RUPERT WHITELEY
By Rebecca Keister PBN Staff Writer
In order to figure out how to solve a problem, you first have to figure out what the solution should look like.
And when you’re talking about closing a skills gap that has been widely cited as a leading cause of Rhode Island’s double-digit unemployment rate, making education an integral part of the state’s economic strategy would be the blueprint to success, according to local educators and business leaders who addressed this and other topics during Providence Business News’ Employers & Education Summit on Nov. 7.
“Is Rhode Island developing a coherent, strategic economic plan? We need one,” said David M. Dooley, president of the University of Rhode Island. “I think Rhode Island is going to struggle with its economy until it addresses more affordable pathways to higher education.”
Dooley was one of five panelists during the second portion of PBN’s summit, held to bring educators and the business community together to address concrete ways of solving a widely acknowledged gap between residents looking for work and available jobs that employers say go unfilled because applicants lack necessary jobs skills.
Dooley’s panel focused on higher education and continuing education’s role in preparing students for careers and life after graduation and addressed an absence of soft, or professional, skills among graduates. The panel also tackled the need to reform post-secondary curriculum to meet new workplace needs, the increasing high cost of post-high school education and training, and a need to attract more students to the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) industries that have been identified as high-paying careers central to developing the state’s burgeoning knowledge economy.
But you can’t fix any of that through education alone, they said.
“We have a jobs gap [too],” said Steve Kitchin, vice president of New England Institute of Technology. “The bottom line is that we need to establish a mechanism in making sure [education] is tied to the economic initiative of where the state is headed.”
In that vein, panelists agreed, state agencies, educational institutions, and businesses need to provide better transparency on what jobs are available and what they will cost students in terms of obtaining degrees and training and then better advise students on the most beneficial options.