To the editor,
Rhode Island was the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution. During the manufacturing era, our workforce was well suited for the abundant opportunities of its day. Today we are undergoing a new revolution towards a knowledge-based, innovation economy. This change requires a paradigm shift in thinking by both policymakers and the people of our state.
However, it is telling that, even with the high unemployment rate in Rhode Island, we continue to hear from business owners who are having trouble finding qualified candidates to fill open positions. It is for this reason that a key component of our economic development efforts has been and remains workforce development. Worker training and re-training to ensure that job candidates are equipped with the skills needed for success in this new knowledge-based, innovation economy. That is why workforce development has been a major focus of the Joint Committee on Economic Development.
We have taken many important steps in this regard in recent years, such as re-focusing the mission of the Community College of Rhode Island, and providing additional funding to ensure they fulfill that mission. Other initiatives are currently working their way through the legislative process, such as an easy to use, web-based system that efficiently identifies and addresses skills gaps among job seekers.
At the most recent meeting of the Joint Committee on Economic Development, we explored the role that the state’s colleges play in workforce development, and reviewed training and workforce development programs currently in place and how those programs are serving the needs of employers and the unemployed. The public presentations from representatives of the state’s colleges, the Department of Education, the Governor’s Workforce Board, Workforce Development Services, and the Economic Development Corporation are part of our ongoing effort to take a coordinated approach to economic development in our state, from workforce development to reducing regulatory and bureaucratic hurdles.
In addition, the committee reviewed the 2010 recommendations of the 21st Century Workforce Development Commission, as well as the progress that has been made towards achieving its goals. We also explored how Rhode Island’s K-12 education system is focusing on work readiness and job skills.
Preparing a workforce that is skilled, flexible and responsive to the demands of a 21st century economy requires a comprehensive effort that coordinates the work of secondary and career/technical schools, colleges and training programs with industry demands. We believe this coordinated approach will lead to a vibrant and stronger Rhode Island economy in the years to come, and invite all Rhode Islanders to support this ongoing effort.
Sen. James C. Sheehan and Rep. Donna M. Walsh
Co-Chairs, Joint Committee on Economic Development