Marcia Sullivan, the executive director of the East Greenwich Housing Authority, came to the Providence Business News summit on Employers & Education Nov. 7 with the hope of finding an answer to how she might assist many of her residents, ages 35-55, find secure employment.
Sullivan said the panel, “Mid-Skill Jobs – What Employers Need/What Students are Learning,” was a compelling discussion of the complexities in attempts to retool education for the needs of a skilled workforce in Rhode Island. One take-away for her was the need to engage directly with employers and businesses to establish internships and partnerships to give her residents a potential leg up.
Yet, Sullivan also voiced frustration the demographic of her residents didn’t fit into the conversation. “How do you find the skills training for a single parent who is over 40 with two kids?” she asked.
The morning after President Barack Obama’s re-election, the conversation about how to build a better workforce for tomorrow was frank and direct, where those with strong opposing views attempted to find common ground. The panel participants wrestled with potential solutions to overcome the growing gap in the need for an increasingly skilled workforce in Rhode Island and the lack of educational attainment of students.
The panel included Ray Di Pasquale, president of the Community College of Rhode Island, Andrea Castaneda, in charge of accelerating school performance at the R.I. Department of Education, Steven Adams, a partner at the law firm of Taylor Duane Barton & Gilman LLP, Brandon Melton, senior vice president of HR at Lifespan, Dennis Littky, co-founder of The Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center (Met), and Pierre La Perriere, senior vice president at Gilbane Inc.
The sharpest contrast in approaches was drawn between Littky and Castaneda.
Castaneda, who oversees middle and high school reform, career and technical education, and virtual learning, stressed the need to develop competence in math skills, such as long division, and to have teachers and students work together to improve performance on standardized testing. She described her efforts to overhaul the state’s technical-training infrastructure to focus on IT training, instead of just automotive and culinary skills.