Using resources recently acquired from a federal grant program, the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) today launched an effort that will allow workers to acquire career-specific skills in a relatively short time frame for two high-growth fields. Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI) and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), both of whom strongly supported the funding stream in Congress, joined CCRI President Ray Di Pasquale, Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training (RIDLT) Director Charlie Fogarty and other state leaders in workforce development at the school's Knight Campus in Warwick to promote the opportunity.
Resources for the initiative come from a $3.4 million U.S. Department of Labor Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College to Career grant announced last fall to give out-of-work Rhode Islanders the chance to acquire industry-recognized credentials in health care and information technology. In partnership with RIDLT, CCRI's Pathways to Advance Career Education (PACE) Program will particularly focus on providing assistance to the long-term unemployed, veterans and those affected by jobs sent overseas, but course offerings are not limited to those groups. Classes begin this summer.
"We are so grateful to our congressional delegation for helping us attain this grant and to our partners for helping us craft a program that will train Rhode Islanders for high-demand jobs in health care and information technology. The kind of innovation this program represents does not happen without partnerships such as these," said Di Pasquale. "At CCRI, 18,000 students are working to earn degrees and certificates or to transfer to four-year institutions and another 35,000 complete workforce development training each year through our Center for Workforce and Community Education. PACE is just one more step that the college is taking to help the state of Rhode Island and those in need of job opportunities to find employment."
Langevin, co-chair of the Congressional Career and Technical Education Caucus, and Whitehouse, a member of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, emphasized the importance of this program to address the state's skills gap, a major obstacle to Rhode Island's economic recovery.
"In visits to businesses and organizations here in Rhode Island, I repeatedly hear they are struggling to fill openings because applicants lack necessary skills, and I can tell you specifically that our projected workforce shortages in healthcare and IT are very real," said Langevin, who has created a Rhode Island Skilled Economy (RISE) Tour to advocate for initiatives and create partnerships that help align job training with industry needs. "You can't ask for a more efficient program. That goes for the students who can complete the targeted training that is most beneficial to them without going through a 2 to 4 year retraining program; and it goes for the companies in these industries that need talented employees and can seek out these graduates."
"I've heard over and over again from business owners in our state who say they want to hire, but are struggling to find people who are properly trained for the available job openings," said Whitehouse. "With too many Rhode Islanders still out of work, this program will help job seekers gain the skills needed for today's job market. By focusing on training for the health care and information technology industries, the program will also help bolster our state's leadership in these growing job sectors."
The U.S. Department of Labor has designed PACE initiatives to align with industries experiencing high growth in the program's geographic region. Participants receive academic counseling and tutors work in conjunction with the classroom instructors to ensure students gain the requisite reading, writing and mathematics skills.
"Thirty years ago, four out of every 10 private sector jobs in Rhode Island were in manufacturing," said Fogarty. "Now that number is roughly one in 10. One reason why the PACE grant is critically important is because it targets dislocated workers in the manufacturing sector and helps train them for jobs in two of Rhode Island's fastest-growing industries."
PACE recruitment and intake activities will include collaborations with RIDLT, which is key to ensuring the course content remains in sync with employer needs, as well as with community-based agencies, employers and other state and local agencies. Michael J. Paruta, Director of Workforce Development at Care New England Health System, and Kathie Shields, Executive Director of Tech Collective, spoke at today's announcement to stress the program's role in meeting workforce demand in the health care and information technology industries respectively.