Continuing his Rhode Island Skilled Economy (RISE) Tour in South County today, Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI) emphasized the importance of supporting career and technical education (CTE) programs and heard from students, teachers and businesspeople about ways to improve workforce development in Rhode Island. At his first stop, Chariho Career and Technical Center, Langevin took input from students and instructors in various programs, including automotive, culinary and cosmetology. The visit, like others on the RISE tour, was organized to increase advocacy for initiatives that will help deal with the inability of employers to find workers able to fit the needs of expanding industries.
During the discussion, Langevin, who co-chairs the CTE Caucus, addressed a bipartisan initiative he is spearheading to restore federal resources that these schools need to help prepare a workforce that can grow the economy. With his fellow co-chair of the caucus, Rep. Glenn "GT" Thompson (R-PA), he is leading the effort in Congress to return Perkins Act funding to its Fiscal Year (FY) 2010 level after two years of substantial cuts. These resources are used to help millions of students and displaced workers by providing access to the latest technology, equipment, and training.
"These are fiscally challenging times, and I am working toward responsible ways to close our deficit and create jobs," said Langevin. "We cannot lose sight of the investments that will strengthen our 21st century economy, and career and technical education will continue to play an increasingly important role in closing our skills gap in Rhode Island and nationally.
"This is a bipartisan initiative as demonstrated by the 67 other members of Congress from across the political spectrum who have joined me in pushing to restore two years of funding cuts from the Perkins Act. We must overcome the gridlock in Washington to ensure adequate support for programs like the ones administered at Chariho under the outstanding leadership of Director Susan Votto."
Langevin and Thompson have rallied colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join them in writing to Democratic and Republican leaders of the House Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees education funding to request $1.27 billion for the Perkins program.
The skills gap has been a particularly significant drag on Rhode Island's economy, contributing to the state's persistently high unemployment. During a later stop at VIBCO Vibrators in Wyoming, Langevin discussed with company leaders ways to overcome this challenge and applauded President Karl Wadensten for creating an internship program for students from Chariho Career and Technical Center. VIBCO manufactures high-quality, low-maintenance industrial vibrators, construction vibrators and other vibratory equipment.
"In visits to businesses, I repeatedly hear they are struggling to fill openings because applicants lack necessary skills," said Langevin. "Addressing this problem requires better cooperation between the businesses doing the hiring and the educators preparing the students."
The RISE Tour builds on prior efforts by Langevin to improve the state's workforce development, including his RISE economic forum in 2010 and his Pathways to Prosperity Summit last year that brought together leaders in the business, education and labor communities to find solutions to these challenges. Many of those leaders continue to meet and implement recommendations.
As he continues the tour over the coming months, Langevin is asking companies, job training facilities and other organizations that want to be involved to contact his office with ideas for building the partnerships Rhode Island needs.