WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT

Better training regime needed to fill jobs, says Workforce Board

PBN FILE PHOTO/RUPERT WHITELEY
THE SKILLS GAP in Rhode Island is exaggerated. According to the Governor's Workforce Board's biennial report, there is no shortage of workers to fill the state's open positions except at the highest levels.
Posted 11/15/12

(Updated, 4:25 p.m.)

PROVIDENCE – Building career pathways for the state’s high-growth industries will be a priority of the Governor’s Workforce Board, according to its Biennial Employment & Training Plan for fiscal years 2014 and 2015, after the report found that there is no shortage of workers to fill positions except at the highest skilled occupational levels.

The report, released Thursday, analyzed skills of the Rhode Island workforce, the needs of employers, and priorities for closing the so-called skills gap that has been identified as a major roadblock in lowering the state’s unemployment rate, which remains the second worst in the country.

“Ensuring Rhode Island employers have the trained workers needed to grow our economy and connecting potential employees with the necessary skills and training to help them get hired is more important now than it ever has been,” said Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee in the report’s introduction.

The report found that Rhode Island lost 8 percent of its jobs since the peak of employment in 2006 but that there is no shortage of workers to fill available positions except at the highest skilled occupational levels.

The other three plan priorities were identified as strengthening partnerships among employers, government and education; promoting work readiness among adults and youth; and improving coordination among the public workforce system and its stakeholders, specifically in economic development.

The report also found that while employers report a skills mismatch between their business needs and the available workforce, the only two occupational groups with more job postings than unemployment claimants are health care and technology.

The plan recommends creating a statewide, employer-recognized work-readiness credential that would be incorporated into workforce education and training programs as well as expanding the use of career and technical school facilities to adults.

It also recommends establishing “seamless career pathways” from K-16 to employment and having the public workforce system leverage data and funding streams for enhanced collaboration and efficiency.

The report found that Rhode Island spent more than $54 million in public dollars on workforce programs in fiscal year 2012. Seventy-seven percent of that funding was from federal sources.

Employers should also become engaged as partners in workforce development, the report says. The workforce board recommends leveraging employer support for more internships, on-the-job training and experiential learning opportunities and improving their analysis of job vacancies to prioritize training options.

As an incentive for businesses to embrace workforce training, the board also announced Thursday that $500,000 in matching training “express grants” are available to Rhode Island businesses to use for existing employees.

The grants offer up to $5,000 in matching training dollars that businesses can apply on a rolling basis until the funding pool is exhausted. Chafee said the new grant format - the previous practice was to issue larger training grants only once per year – was developed in response to employers’ requests.

The workforce board also will offer employers the option to reduce their funding match by half if they provide a school-year internship to a youth referred through the state’s YouthWorks411 workforce development system.

That portion of the grant program is meant to encourage the state’s business community to help develop the next generation of workers.

The Workforce Board’s biennial plan was developed over several months by a 35-member advisory group consisting of representatives from state and local agencies, private businesses, higher education institutions, the labor market and the nonprofit sector.

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