Continuing his Rhode Island Skilled Economy (RISE) Tour, Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI) highlighted the Weld to Work program at Providence's Steel Yard, a non-profit industrial arts center with a mission of spurring a creative revitalization of the city's industrial valley district. The welding initiative provides low-income Rhode Islanders a chance to gain the skills needed to help grow emerging industries, recognizing that welding and the advanced science and math training that goes into the program are in great demand.
Langevin stressed the importance of expanding these types of programs and improving their connections to the larger business community to strengthen the pipeline of skilled workers in Rhode Island, which will lead to rewarding and higher-paid jobs. Following a tour of the workspace by Executive Director Drake Patten and her staff, Langevin commended the leaders of the program and recognized the students who will earn a certificate when they complete their metalworking and job readiness training at the end of the week.
"In addition to improving collaboration between industry and our secondary and post-secondary schools, closing Rhode Island's skills gap requires creatively using the resources at our disposal," said Langevin, who co-chairs the bipartisan Career and Technical Education Caucus. "By providing opportunities for struggling Rhode Islanders to gain abilities that are highly sought on the job market, the Steel Yard's Weld to Work program represents the kind of innovative approach that is vital to improving our state's workforce development. In addition to the welding training, I particularly commend the program's attention to soft skills, like communications, which are important to success in any career."
Targeting 18- to 24-year-olds who meet federal poverty guidelines, the Steel Yard limits its classes to no more than ten students, chosen through an intensive screening process, to ensure enough individual attention for each person in the classes, with materials and tools supported in part by Rhode Island businesses such as Bullard Abrasives, Industrial Welding Supply and Teknicote. Five trainees are expected to receive a Steel Yard certification after the completion of the current session on Friday. Each student must work on a group welding project as well as an independent project and much of the work, such as fence panels, bicycle racks and garbage cans, is used by the city, allowing the larger community to benefit from the program.
"With the high unemployment that has followed the recession, you wouldn't think we'd have an abundance of jobs to fill, but we consistently hear that business leaders are clamoring for skilled workers," said Patten. "This structure of the Work to Weld program is ideal for tapping into the talents of young people who are often overlooked to give them a chance to fill these business' needs.
"Our training is not just about vigorous preparation of a workforce, but is also an intimate investment in the place we live and the people who live here. We believe that the best and most lasting change is local and that young people are best poised to succeed when they are able to earn the respect and appreciation of their community."
Langevin noted that he hoped efforts to increase awareness of the program would help build stronger relationships with the local business community to establish a pipeline into the workforce for the trainees.
"The use of funding from Bank of America and Community Development Block Grants to support Weld to Work shows that the right partnerships, both public and private, can help us overcome great challenges and achieve great things. It is going to take the cooperation and coordination of all of us -- government, labor, industry, schools, and small businesses -- to bring our state out of this recession. With leaders like Drake Patten at the forefront of this effort, Rhode Island can and will meet the challenge."
Following last month's kick-off, the RISE tour is taking Langevin to a variety of venues to address closing our skills gap and strengthening our economy. Last week, he highlighted an effort by Toray Plastics in North Kingstown to help create a pipeline for developing highly skilled engineers in Rhode Island. The events advocate initiatives and create partnerships that help address the inability of employers to find workers able to fit the needs of expanding industries. He is asking schools, companies, job training facilities and other organizations that want to be involved to contact his office with ideas.