Posted by: Providence Chamber of Commerce | April 26, 2012

Chamber Testifies in Support of Enhanced Revenue for Workforce Development

Understanding that Rhode Island’s economy is only as good as its workforce, Janet Raymond, SVP of Economic Development and Operations at the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce today urged the Senate Finance Committee to support  Senate bill 2621 – which would allocate $2 million of general revenue for workforce development and training.

Raymond, who also serves as Chairman of Providence/Cranston Workforce Investment Board testified that with Rhode Island’s unemployment rate hovering around 11 percent — the second highest in the nation — now is the time to strategically identify and support initiatives that best leverage scarce financial resources to put Rhode Island residents back to work.

She added, statistics show that close to half the jobs in the state are middle-skill occupations or those that require more than a high school degree, yet only 37 percent of the workforce has the skills to fill these jobs.  As a result, Rhode Island needs to increase the number of high and middle skill workers AND provide opportunities for lower skill workers to obtain the education they need to move into higher skills jobs — and this takes funding.

The bottom line — providing $2 million in new general revenue specifically for workforce training is essential to Rhode Island’s economic recovery and future competitiveness.

Full Testimony:
•    Good afternoon.  My name is Janet Raymond. And today I wear two hats – one as the Senior Vice President of Economic Development at the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, and the other as the Chairman of Providence/Cranston Workforce Investment Board — as I urge you to approve Senate bill 2621 that proposes to add $2 million of general revenue for workforce development and training.

•    It’s no secret that Rhode Island’s unemployment rate – hovering around 11 percent – is the second highest in the country.  Yet, we hear from local employers… who have jobs to fill… that they can’t find qualified workers.  This is a very real and frightening disconnect.

•    To increase its economic competitiveness, Rhode Island needs more workers with higher skills.
•    Statistics show us that close to half the jobs in the state are middle-skill occupations or those that require more than a high school degree, yet only 37 percent of the workforce has the skills to fill these jobs.  The message – Rhode Island needs to increase the number of high and middle skill workers AND provide opportunities for lower skill workers to obtain the education they need to move into higher skills jobs.

•    It’s a sentiment that is echoed in much of my work. The Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, in conjunction with a host of community partners, has worked incredible hard over the last few years to advance the state’s knowledge economy. The General Assembly has been extremely supportive of this efforts….however as a community ….we are challenged by the fact that a knowledge economy requires a highly skilled and educated workforce.

•    A recent benchmarking study undertaken by the Chamber and the Science Technology Advisory Council (STAC) – found that there is a shortage of scientists and engineers in our workforce, despite awarding the highest number of degrees in the region. In addition, the math scores of our eighth graders – a key indicator of our early workforce preparation efforts – are lagging.

•    Rhode Island is often placed at the bottom of business climate rankings. It is imperative that the state continues to create a strong foundation from which to build on, one that will create new jobs, because jobs spur investment and new levels of prosperity for all Rhode Islanders.

•    As a community we need to find ways to put our residents back to work. We need to think of innovative ways that we can be truly competitive in the 21st century global economy. We need to strategically identify and support initiatives that best leverage scarce financial resources…including the anticipated decline of federal workforce investment act dollars at a time when Rhode Island could use these resources the most.

•    The $10 million of Job Development Funds available for workforce training is simply not sufficient to meet the demands of employers who need customized training for their workers to keep up with a changing work environment. Industry partners in IT, health care, hospitality, defense and marine trades work hard to identify the skills training that employers in their sectors need and have crafted programs to meet those needs – but more funding is necessary.

•    Providing $2 million in new general revenue specifically for workforce training is essential to Rhode Island’s economic recovery and future competitiveness.

•    Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.


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