With Rhode Island’s unemployment rate still stubbornly high, the state needs to do a better job connecting the workplace and educational resources, a point made over and over in a pair of panel discussions that formed the Providence Business News Employers & Education Summit held last week.
In the first conversation, entitled “Mid-Skill Jobs – What Employers Need/What Students Are Learning,” participants sketched the often-conflicting goals of the educational establishment, charged with improving academic achievement, and the needs of employers, who want competent, job-skill-focused workers. The Met school model, which connects all students with internships, has proven that earlier exposure to the workplace produces engaged students.
Private-sector solutions exist as well. Lifespan has internships and summer programs that often help at-risk youth gain workplace skills, an investment that pays off not only for the health care system, but the community as well.
The second panel, “High-Skilled Jobs, Soft Skills and STEM,” emphasized many of the same points. Too many college students do not have the “soft skills” – communication, collaboration and problem-solving – that today’s workplace demands.
The University of Rhode Island has initiated changes designed to bring more employers in contact with students, while Bryant University has rewritten its freshmen curriculum to broaden its students’ experience.
Atrion Networking Corp. developed an apprenticeship program that costs it $300,000 per year, but the company sees it paying big dividends down the road.
The takeaway from the panels is as simple as its execution will be complex: employers need to engage with all levels of education to a much greater degree in order to help the state pull itself out of the economic hole it finds itself in. •