State must do more to train unemployed to fill jobs
ENERGIZED AGENDA: U.S. Rep. James R. Langevin says that the alternative energy industry is one potential way to grow jobs in Rhode Island.
PBN PHOTO/DAVID LEVESQUE
By Michael Souza PBN Staff Writer
PBN: What do you think the No. 1 issue is in this election and how do you plan to approach it?
LANGEVIN: What I have been focused on is the economy; getting jobs and getting people back to work. It weighs on me heavily every day because a recovery for many people hasn’t happened yet. Rhode Island still has the second-highest unemployment rate in the country, which means there are still about 60,000 people out of work. We are trying to leave no stone unturned to create jobs and get people working again.
PBN: You have been an advocate of several employment and small-business initiatives. Could you elaborate on some of them?
LANGEVIN: I think it’s very important to fill the skills gap in our state. I talk to many companies around the state and it’s painfully obvious some are struggling to find workers to fill jobs that they have available. When I ask, some of them say they are hiring but having difficulty finding qualified technical people. At least that gives us a battle plan, a focus as to how we might proceed.
We have to retrain people and make sure that funding is available. We have brought federal funding to CCRI for several programs to help people develop the skills for the job opportunities that are available right now [through the Pathways to Advance Career Education program]. It also means things like funds from [The Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006] that go to career- and technical-education schools, both for training and the purchase of equipment. I have also toured many businesses through the Rhode Island Skilled Economy tour.
We need to do more for people in those areas, both those that are leaving high school and entering the workforce and those that are unemployed and looking for work but lack those specialized skills.
Additional employment opportunities are available through work on our infrastructure. Rhode Island is one of the worst states in terms of infrastructure. We must do a better job in creating a 21st-century infrastructure for a 21st-century economy. There are roads and bridges crumbling and it’s something to be concerned about.
I was so proud to be able to vote for the reauthorization of the transportation bill which will bring Rhode Island $500 million over the next few years and create 9,000 jobs. However, the two-year extension of the bill was too short, we need it for five or six years.
We also need to find creative ways to make sure we are properly maintaining our roads and bridges.
PBN: Do taxes fit into the solution?
LANGEVIN: Yes. First we have to have a more balanced and fair tax code for small businesses, especially to incentivize job creation here at home. It also means creating incentives for business to keep their jobs at home rather than overseas. Obviously, too many jobs have left the country because of a code that incentivizes jobs to go overseas. We have fought to turn that around and I know that President Obama wants to provide incentives for jobs domestically. I think that is a priority.
PBN: As a member of the House Armed Services Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, what activities have you been involved in, and how have they impacted Rhode Island?
LANGEVIN: We have a robust defense industry in our state. Companies such as Electric Boat, Raytheon and Textron are a few that come to mind. My work on the Armed Services Committee has put me in a position to advocate for certain things, like building two submarines per year at Electric Boat. I was part of a collective with my local colleagues as well as some across the country who understand the importance of submarines to the national security of our country.
Clearly, for Rhode Island it’s a major jobs issue. Because we were able to advocate for that, Electric Boat will be building those submarines for the foreseeable future. They are in the process of hiring hundreds of new workers and will be for the next several years, meaning hundreds of Rhode Islanders will be going back to work.
PBN: From Sept. 17 to Sept. 28, cyberattacks were launched “from Middle Eastern sources” on six national U.S. banks. Could you speak about the growing threat of cyberattacks?
LANGEVIN: It’s very concerning from the standpoint that it threatens our national economy and could also lead to a loss of life. We know that right now the worst tools are in the hands of nation-states that don’t have intent to use them, to cause that kind of catastrophic damage that could occur during a cyberattack. We also know that there are countries that have the intent but don’t have the tools. How long is it going to be before the worst countries get the worst tools and launch a cyberattack?
We need people to go into the field of cybersecurity and do these jobs. I’ve been working at the high school level to launch the high school cyber challenge through the SANS Institute. The idea is to get these children who are good on computers to get them to think about seeing technology, not just cybersecurity, as a career opportunity.
There is also the University of Rhode Island’s Center of Excellence [for Explosives Detection, Mitigation and Response] that is a part of the Department of Homeland Security.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and I encouraged URI to become accredited by the U.S. National Security Administration. It’s not only good for the students and the university but it also will help if we are to ask for millions of dollars in federal funding for improvements.
PBN: In what direction do the country and the states need to head in terms of energy? What do you see in terms of renewable energy and efficiency?
LANGEVIN: I am a huge supporter of alternative energy. I support domestic drilling where it can be done responsibly. Certainly, we should use our domestic energy supplies. Being dependent of fossil fuels isn’t going to meet our needs for the foreseeable future and it’s certainly not good for the environment.
Ultimately, though, we will have to transition to an energy-independent economy that is focused on alternatives and we are making progress. I see that as an opportunity to grow jobs across the nation and in Rhode Island. There is the [Deepwater Wind] wind farm that is moving forward. Rhode Island could be the first state in the country to have a functioning wind farm off our coast. It’s a big deal to be first because people from other states will want to come and study it and see what lessons were learned.
It’s also an opportunity to build those turbines right here in Rhode Island at Quonset Point. We are already accustomed to moving large equipment there like submarine hulls. It would be easy for us to do the work, whether it be assembling the turbines or transporting them out to sea.
There are other examples of alternative energy that are startups in Rhode Island. That is another area that needs to be focused on.
PBN: What was your motivation in asking Congress to declare the Northeast groundfish area a disaster? What will happen next?
LANGEVIN: We need to bring federal officials to Rhode Island so they can see what our needs are. Our fishing industry has been devastated for the last few years because of these catch limits that have been put in place. We have been stressing that there has to be some collaboration between the fishing community and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that decides what the catch limits will be. Nobody on the fishing side has confidence in the science. It’s not fair and it’s not the right way to handle it. We are going to keep hammering that message across to federal officials so they can get this right.
Fishing is part of our heritage and culture, and we are going to do everything we can to preserve it. I know that fishermen are hurting right now.
PBN: What are you the proudest of over the last two years?
LANGEVIN: Certainly championing the cause of job creation for the people of Rhode Island while in Washington, D.C., and focusing on the skills gap. I have also put myself in a position where I co-chair the bipartisan Career and Technical Education Caucus. We are raising awareness but also bringing back federal dollars for training. My work on national and cybersecurity issues is important to the country. When I first started working on cybersecurity six years ago people might have been scratching their heads. Now, everyone from our top leadership, from the president down to the secretary of defense, chairman of the joint chiefs or the Federal Bureau of Investigation [is involved].
I also co-authored the bipartisan [Lifespan] Respite Care Act, legislation that was passed for respite care. The state will receive $250,000 to support families caring for aging or disabled individuals with special needs. This relief offers family members breaks from the daily routine and stress of providing care to loved ones with special needs. It is critical for maintaining family stability and the health of the caregiver.
On health care, I was proud to be in Congress, to support and vote for health care reform. It will bring much more sanity and security to containing costs and helping the uninsured.
PBN: Has it been frustrating with all the partisanship in Congress on matters such as the national budget?
LANGEVIN: It has been very frustrating to work in such an environment right now, and it doesn’t have to be that way. It shouldn’t be that way. The country was founded on the principle of compromise. We have got to get back to the point where compromise isn’t a bad word. I have tried to do that on every major initiative that I’ve worked on, whether it be national security or job creation. I co-chair the Career and Technical Education Caucus with Rep. Glenn Thompson [a Pennsylvania Republican]. It speaks to who I am with regards to being able to work with people on both sides of the aisle and trying to reach a consensus. •