A few years ago the words “manufacturing” and “growth” were rarely encountered in the same sentence, especially in Rhode Island.
Now, at least according to the Governor’s Workforce Board, manufacturing is taking a place alongside bioscience, construction, defense, health care, hospitality, information technology and the marine trades as potential growth sectors deserving of their own industry-state, job-training partnership.
To form this partnership, the Workforce Board is seeking an “intermediary” from the manufacturing community to help align job-training policies and programs in a way that makes sure Ocean State manufacturers have a labor pool with the skills they need to grow.
“Anecdotally, but on a very frequent basis, we hear from manufacturers that they are having challenges filling the vacancies they have,” said Workforce Board Executive Director Rick Brooks. “We didn’t usually hear skills mismatches in manufacturing like we did in IT and health care. But we have increasingly heard they have jobs they can’t fill and that young workers are not being counseled by high schools [to] consider manufacturing.”
To set up this partnership with the manufacturing industry, the Workforce Board has $100,000 in state funding available to an organization or industry consortium with the best plans for providing educators and government officials a connection to the needs on shop floors. The partner could be an existing organization or a group formed specifically for the purpose.
As for why the communication and information-gathering function couldn’t be fulfilled by existing state resources, Brooks said the idea is to get as close to the private-sector job producers as possible.
“We don’t rule out any partner, but our goal is to have real-time information from Rhode Island manufacturers about their workforce needs,” Brooks said. “The most important aspect of any candidate is that they can effectively represent the industry.”
One of the first things the new manufacturing partner will be asked to do is produce a detailed study on the existing skills gap between employers and the Rhode Island workforce.
“They should look at the job vacancies and compare them to applicants to identify those skills that are not easy to find, so the education and training system can recruit and train for those skills,” Brooks said.