Skills for Rhode Island’s Future intentionally building inclusive work environment

STRATEGIC PLANNING: Skills for Rhode Island’s Future staff members, from left foreground clockwise, Vianka Brito, work readiness coach; Tracy Duffaut, director of engagement; Nina Pande, executive director; Roanderson Servino, work readiness coach; and Christopher Abreu, program director, meet at the nonprofit’s Providence office. / PBN PHOTO/TRACY JENKINS
STRATEGIC PLANNING: Skills for Rhode Island’s Future staff members, from left foreground clockwise, Vianka Brito, work readiness coach; Tracy Duffaut, director of engagement; Nina Pande, executive director; Roanderson Servino, work readiness coach; and Christopher Abreu, program director, meet at the nonprofit’s Providence office. / PBN PHOTO/TRACY JENKINS

PBN Diversity and Inclusion Awards 2021
Editor’s Choice – Community Impact Award: Skills for Rhode Island’s Future


Nina Pande, executive director of Skills for Rhode Island’s Future, says the Providence-based nonprofit organization believes “firmly that there is opportunity for everybody.”

Pande oversees the workforce intermediary that connects unemployed and underemployed Rhode Islanders with job opportunities, addresses inequities and strives to set up all Rhode Islanders for career and financial success. Founded in 2016, Skills for Rhode Island’s Future offers job training initiatives and other services to enhance economic opportunity for Rhode Islanders, and, by extension, contributes to the inclusiveness and success of local businesses.

“We are constantly looking to create strategic partnerships with organizations that will really further develop us, and ensuring that diversity, equity and inclusion is not just a buzzword, but it is actual action that we are intentionally taking every day,” Pande said.

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Within its five years, the organization has placed more than 3,500 Rhode Islanders with employers, provided 13,598 individuals with career enhancement training, employed 244 people with the COVID-19 Dispatch Program, placed 920 people with Real Jobs Rhode Island training programs, and connected 1,381 Rhode Island students from public high schools and universities with internships.

The college internship program, Pande explains, “is specifically designed for first-generation college students,” adding that it is important “for first-generation college students to get the supports they need, to not only succeed in college, but once they graduate, creating that social capital, and getting them connected to the world of work early is so important for their professional growth, their personal confidence and then really setting them on a path for economic success.”

‘We are constantly looking to create strategic partnerships with organizations that will really further develop us.’
NINA PANDE, Skills for Rhode Island’s Future executive director

Of the total number of Rhode Islanders connected with jobs through Skills for Rhode Island’s Future, 52% are people of color and 57% are women. In addition to connecting job candidates with employers, Skills for Rhode Island’s Future also offers a “skills academy” with free online courses, interview preparation training, resume workshops, as well as training in a variety of in-demand fields, including manufacturing, information technology, health care, and customer service and retail.

To identify areas in which Skills for Rhode Island’s Future can maintain its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, the nonprofit recently held a strategic planning process, through which the organization established five areas of focus. One focus area is supporting marginalized communities, including people of color, women, veterans, people who were formerly incarcerated, English language learners, people who are living in poverty, and individuals with disabilities.

Pande said the organization established the WorkABILITY initiative during the COVID-19 pandemic “to make sure, again, that individuals with disabilities have opportunities to be able to upskill and get jobs just like anybody else. And, and really breaking down the myths and barriers that come along with hiring a person with a diagnosed disability.”

In addition to providing important job training services and professional opportunities to unemployed and underemployed Rhode Islanders, Skills for Rhode Island’s Future has offered crucial services during the COVID-19 pandemic, adapting to local businesses’ needs.

Through all this, Pande said, “We grew our employee base by about 40% through the pandemic. And we grew our revenue significantly, as well, because we prepared employees to respond to the pandemic in ways that were necessary.”

The nonprofit has worked to fast-track and recruit health care workers to local field hospitals and certified nursing assistants for nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also worked with the R.I. Department of Labor and Training to establish a temporary staffing model to fill local businesses’ needs for essential retail and service workers.

“What makes me happy every day is the culture that we’ve built at the organization to really be that inclusive environment,” Pande said, “to make sure that anybody who walks through our doors, whether it’s an employee or a candidate or an employer, that they feel welcomed and they feel supported and that our organization is that little bit of hope that you’ll be able to find a job … regardless of your educational background, or what ZIP code you live in, or what experiences you’ve had.”

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