Not long after Rhode Island lawmakers approved a $1.25 million package of new programs to fight joblessness last summer, the state’s unemployment rate began its latest creep upward before settling at 9 percent in November, 2 percentage points higher than the national average and tied for the highest in the country.
Now after months of getting the programs ready, they are slated to launch in the new year, not a moment too soon for residents looking for an opportunity in the still-sluggish job market.
Temporary work experience for college students and those collecting jobless benefits are at the core of the new initiatives, the first funded from the state’s general fund in memory.
“I really do think it is going to be a great opportunity for people to get work experience while getting paid and for employers to get reimbursed for trying them out,” said Heather Singleton, senior vice president for education at the Rhode Island Hospitality Association, which plans to refer people it trains to the Work Immersion Program when it gets off the ground later this winter.
“For our adult students who go through training, we place them in internships and the majority are unpaid,” she said. “Having this new opportunity with work immersion … gives job seekers one more step in the career pathway.”
The state budget passed by lawmakers called for the new programs – Back to Work Rhode Island and the Work Immersion Program – to begin in October, but only the paid college internships in the latter have launched so far.
“You have to ramp up the programs and build them before you can open them to all the people who need jobs,” said R.I. Department of Labor and Training spokeswoman Laura Hart. “In October we went public, and DLT has been talking to businesses, as well as unemployed people. We are trying to build interest among employers first because you can’t say ‘come work here’ without the jobs in place.”
The Work Immersion Program, which is run by the Governor’s Workforce Board, repays employers half of what they spend on either credit-awarding college internships or temporary jobs for unemployed adults.