Citizens pledges $3M for regional workforce development, including in R.I.

CITIZENS FINANCIAL GROUP on Tuesday announced $3 million for regional workforce training programs, including in Rhode Island, during a panel event in Boston. Pictured, from left to right, are Jerry Sargent, northeast regional executive for Citizens; Gerald Chertavian, founder and CEO of Year Up; Bruce Van Saun, chairman and CEO of Citizens; and Pam Eddinger, president of Bunker Hill Community College. / COURTESY CITIZEN FINANCIAL GROUP

BOSTON – Citizens Financial Group Inc. is putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to workforce training.

Chairman and CEO Bruce Van Saun on Tuesday pledged $3 million to support workforce training and education programs across the region, including $190,000 directly in Rhode Island. The announcement was part of a panel event in which leaders from Citizens, Year Up and Bunker Hill Community College discussed workforce shortages and the opportunities presented by emerging industries. 

The event, held at Year Up’s downtown campus in Boston and streamed virtually, comes several months after a report commissioned by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, which predicted that up to 400,000 people in the state – about 10% of its existing workforce – will need to find new jobs or even industries to work in over the next decade. That’s true not only in Massachusetts, but across the region, where company executives routinely name the need for trained workers as their top priority, said Jerry Sargent, northeast region executive for Citizens.

Many of our companies say they had a good year this year, but it would be even better if we had more access to talent,” Sargent said. 

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At the same time as employers nationwide struggle to find workers, 2.8 million Americans are receiving some form of jobless aid, according to Department of Labor data as of mid-September. 

This disconnect is a problem, but also presents an opportunity to reinvent the way companies, government bodies and education and training programs think about preparing workers. And banks have a crucial role to play as  the go-between from companies to the groups making policy decisions.

We’re very close to customers that ultimately is where that job demand comes from,” Van Saun said. “[Our role is] to take that demand inventory and bring that back to the groups who are already convened.”

To that end, Citizens is funneling $1.6 million to Year Up, which will be used to support its existing partnership to train young adults for careers in the financial services industry. Exactly how many of these internships and jobs will come to Rhode Island is unclear, but Citizens’ Johnson headquarters is the home for its technology services department and a a natural location to host at least some of the interns and future workers supported by this program, according to spokesman Andy Hoglund. The funding will also support Year Up’s digital inclusion program, which aims to bridge the digital divide in underserved communities.

Van Saun on Tuesday also pledged $650,000 to workforce development programs locally, with another $190,000 expected later this fall. Finally, the bank announced $750,000 for a pilot digital skills workforce development program through its partnership with local chapters of the Local Support Initiatives Corp., including in Providence.

Digital skills and those relevant to other emerging industries, including renewable energy, biotech and artificial intelligence will be a focus of these workforce training programs, offering a “win-win” for companies and workers looking to enter well-paid, stable careers. 

And it’s not just teenagers and 20-somethings starting their careers who stand to benefit. Pam Eddinger, president of Bunker Hill Community College, highlighted the need to focus training on older adults already in the workforce, providing accompanying funding to allow them to support their families while learning new skills.

“Sometimes, that’s where we miss the boat,” Eddinger said. “The conversation needs to be, ‘we know how difficult it is already that you’re supporting your daily life. Allow us to help with the financial pieces so you can make the time [for new training.]’”

Not to be forgotten, according to panelists, is the need to make these training programs inclusive and available for low-income, minority and other historically underserved communities. The racial reckoning that has ensued following the 2020 death of Black man George Floyd was a wakeup call that brought new urgency and pressure to corporate leaders across industries, Van Saun said.

Much in the way that certifications for green building design and carbon emissions goals have become standardized environmental practices in the corporate world, so too could frameworks be developed to turn inclusion and diversity from ideas into concrete actions, said Gerald Chertavian, founder and CEO of Year Up.

Companies have learned what it means to be environmentally- friendly,” Chertavian said. “I am hopeful this country, over the next 20 years, will go on a journey to become opportunity-friendly.”

Citizens will also partner with Bunker Hill Community College on a new accelerator credentialing program of “micro-pathways” to address local market demands.

Nancy Lavin is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Lavin@PBN.com.

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