Citizens invests $600K in statewide workforce development

A PANEL DISCUSSION ON WORKFORCE development challenges took place Tuesday at CIC Providence. From left is moderator Nina Pande, executive director of Skills for Rhode Island Future; Citizens Chairman and CEO Bruce Van Saun; Lifespan Corp. CEO and President, John Fernandez; Bill Hughes, CEO and president of Education Design Lab; and Michael Pugh, CEO of Local Initiatives Support Corporation./ PBN PHOTO /CHRIS ALLEN

PROVIDENCE – Citizens Financial Group Inc. on Tuesday announced a $600,000 commitment to local nonprofit and education organizations working to address the growing skills gap and employee pipeline shortage. 

The funding will be directed to programs for “upskilling” and “reskilling” workers to meet the state’s evolving economic needs, including skills-based job training programs focused on expanding access to in-demand markets.

Programs being supported will include the YMCA of Pawtucket and the Davies Career Academy focused on developing early learning educators; teaching culinary skills at Genesis Center’s culinary hub, CHOP Kitchen; training minority health care workers through Rhode Island Hospital and Crossroads; and Bank Forward, aimed at building a diverse pipeline of talent for the financial services industry.

The “CAP Mapping Program” with Local Initiatives Support Corp. is a small business capacity initiative to help nonprofits identify areas of weakness and provide them with micro-grants for training programs.

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The funding also includes a $200,000 expansion of the bank’s partnership with Education Design Lab at the Community College of Rhode Island, which will fund “micro pathway” programs in manufacturing and insurance, two high-growth industries aligned with regional market demand.

The announcement coincided with a panel discussion held at CIC Providence and moderated by Nina Pande, executive director of skills for Rhode Island Future, focused on how companies and nonprofits can pool resources to address the state’s workforce challenges. 

Panelists included Citizens CEO and Chairman Bruce Van Saun; Bill Hughes, CEO and president of the Education Design Lab; Michael Pugh, CEO of Local Initiatives Support Corp.; and Lifespan CEO and President John Fernandez. 

With more than two-thirds of adults without a college degree, Hughes said part of the challenge is getting prospective employees to realize their worth while also filling gaps in their resumes, addressing what he called “jagged profiles.” 

“I met a guy who had managed over 800 projects but didn’t know he was a project manager,” he said. “A lot of these people are more qualified than their papers say they are.” 

According to Van Saun, Rhode Island’s 65 and older population has grown 12% since 2010 and is projected to reach 25% of the total population by 2040. 

Citizens, which has 4,500 employees in Rhode Island, already instituted an internal “talent marketplace,” a database that catalogues current employee skills and experience and job descriptions, which they can use as a tool to climb the corporate ladder. 

That program, which Van Saun said could be a playbook for other large organizations, has almost increased the success rate of internal applicants by 20%, he said. 

“It is really resonating with our people,’ he said. “They can use it to navigate through the company.” 

At Lifespan, Fernandez acknowledged the organization had for years failed to properly address what was a clear workforce crisis on the horizon, an oversight he says hurt the healthcare sector generally.

“I think we have to do a better job in healthcare of building our culture,” he said. “Our [training and recruitment] ecosystems need to be dialed up.” 

Lifespan has responded in part by increasing internal training and tuition benefit programs to “insource” talent whenever possible. 

But companies large and small are focused on their respective missions and must rely mostly on outside organizations to do the heavy lifting, said Fernandez. 

“We don’t want to be in the school business,” he said. “But if we retain people we have to recruit less. If our employees stay more than three years [after hired] then they tend to stay for a long time.” 

Panelists said that while great challenges remain, it’s important to realize that most potential hires are not beginning with a clean slate. Everyone has some experience and skills that can be fostered and developed. One only needs to fill in the blanks.

Pugh said LISC, which uses funding from banks, corporations, foundations and government agencies to provide financing and technical and management assistance to local organizations, serves as a national model that can be localized in Rhode Island.

The pandemic has reiterated the consequences of failing to keep up with technological innovation and required skillsets, which becomes more challenging the longer a dormancy period last. 

“Once you are jettisoned out, there is really no way to get back in,” said Hughes. “The future is already here but it’s not being evenly distributed.” 

 Christopher Allen is a PBN staff writer. You may contact him at   

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