Economic Summit: Jobs Still #1 Priority
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Widespread Interest from State House
The event was one in a series of Senate summits designed to promote the growth of jobs in the state and create a world class workforce. Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed served as moderator.
The bulk of the 38 members of the Senate were in attendance among an audience of 60 attendees that included CCRI President Ray DiPasquale, who joined Paiva Weed for opening remarks; Rhode Island College President Nancy Carriuolo; and R.I. Department of Labor and Training Director Charles Fogarty.
DiPasquale set the tone for the meeting, citing the 18,000 students enrolled at CCRI, and the fact that 36,000 more receive work development training. He noted that many of those were in the 25 to 45-year old range, predominantly male, but “terribly unprepared.” More than more than half of the students need at least one or two remedial classes when they enter.
Rhode Island’s Sluggish Recovery
A spirited Dr. Paul Harrington, director of the Drexel University Center for Labor Markets and Policy, led off the string of three guest speakers with a presentation of “A Sluggish Recovery for Rhode Island Labor Markets.” He attributed Rhode Island’s current #4 rank in relative job loss to feeling the early effects of the housing fall-off, which led to appreciable drops in construction. He lumped Rhode Island in with other states that got “roughed up” by the housing bubble burst, such as Nevada, Arizona and Florida.
Not surprised by DiPasquale’s description of the “he session” of former blue collar workers returning to school seeking basic skills creation, Harrington noted that sector was where the principal jobs hit took place. He wryly observed when white collar jobs began to vanish in U.S., that was when the catchwords “blue collar job loss” morphed into “outsourcing” to describe the scenario.
Youth Taking the Hit
An eye-opening statistic displayed by Harrington was the employment-to-population ratio that showed negative drops among all almost all age groups under 55, with the 16 to 19-year olds leading the pack. This excess labor supply desperately needs skills, mostly for low skills or mid-level skills jobs that did not require a four-year college degree.
The key to getting this age group, who were likely to enter school due to the lack of jobs, was to provide them with the type of education and training offered by schools such as CCRI (to receive an associate degree), or trade schools.
Education to Workplace
These prospective working citizens were looking for three things, he explained, and it wasn’t education’s “one-trick pony” of being pushed into a post-secondary four-year college degree. Rather they were asking 1) “How do I get sold reading, writing and math skills?” 2) “How do I achieve literacy proficiency?" and 3) “How do I achieve occupational proficiency?”
As one place where Harrington said he had seen progress in action in Rhode Island was Davies Career and Technical High School in Lincoln, that “great little place in the north of the state,” where he had seen educational and training graduates “move across shops” to find employers.
Pockets of Opportunity
If that message wasn’t heard clearly, Eric Seleznow, state policy director of the Washington, DC-based National Skills Coalition, fully endorsed his preceding speaker’s recommendations, hammering home the points. He noted that according to national skills expert Anthony Carnevale of Georgetown University, “63 percent of all jobs between now and 2018 will require some sort of post-secondary degree,” encompassing those from community colleges and trade schools. "A high school grad will not be enough,” he stated.
Stressing the need for educators and policy makers to identify “pockets of (job) opportunity” in the Rhode Island, he pointed to obvious examples such as the health care industry and marine trades in the state, "The challenge for Rhode Island is to get your graduate rates up.”
What was needed most, he told GoLocalProv, was leadership from the highest levels in the area of finding such career paths to drive integration of education and business.
“Is it a comprehensive effort with leadership behind it?” he asked of any work towards that goal. “It MUST be leadership. It will never sustain without a leader behind it. It must be the only focus – career paths for business. Oregon has been doing it for five years (with sustained leadership from the top) and they are flying.”
Rhode Island at Risk
There was more than one person ready to step up to that challenge in the audience.
“Absolutely I am ready to provide leadership,” declared Paiva Weed. “My work with (House Speaker) Gordon Fox on the CCRI 21st Century Workforce Commission shows that. I believe we have important steps to take and we have taken them, and I am going to take whatever steps are necessary, and the governor is taking the same steps. I have been working with him and working with the director of Labor and Training (Fogarty).”
When asked if this was the 100 percent commitment Seleznow had called for, the Senate President said quickly, “More than!”
Questioned about their collaborative effort, Fogarty said “Teresa, Gordon and I have taken leadership, and I’ll give them credit for working on establishing career paths. The governor has made it clear to me workforce training is critical because everything depends on that – if you don’t do it, all aspects of life in Rhode Island are at risk.”
After a buffet break, the assembled were given an all-too-familiar rundown of hardly inspiring financial statistics by Sophia Koropeckyj, managing director of Moody’s Analytics (which she took pains to make sure her firm was not to confused with sister company Moody’s Investors Service, which usually has the task of delivering messages of bond rating drops to state municipalities).
According to Moody’s Analytics, the leisure sector and business and professional jobs, along with manufacturing in third place, lead Rhode Island’s areas of recovery job categories. On the opposite end of the spectrum, construction and government (state and local) jobs, the latter which has probably gone through its most serious cuts by now, have been the weakest in terms of numbers employed.
Target the Mid-level
Harking back to better news and another showcase of the need for skills training aimed at mid-range job opportunities and growth, Koropeckyj showed a chart comparing the Providence and Boston workforce education levels. While Boston held an advantage in having a higher rate of B.A./Professional workers, and a lower number of less-than-high school educated individuals, Providence had more mid-level workers available for employment, stressing the need to target that resource in the future.
To wrap up the session, Donna Cupelo, region president of Verizon Corporation’s New England division, and Robert DiMuccio, president and CEO of Amica Mutual Insurance Company, who is also on the Board of Trustees of the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council made brief remarks and took questions from the crowd.
Cupelo said that there assuredly must be a working relationship between the state policy makers, educators and business. She also stressed that the opportunities presented by mid-range skill level jobs needed to have more breadth, which has proven in turn to eventually elevate those jobs in both further skills and income.
In the Same Room
In an interview prior to the meeting, DiMuccio had said of the economic state of the state, "We have lots of work to do, given the gravity of the situation. We have had a slow start, but I am feeling pretty good,” he continued. "Recovery is on its way, but it will be a long, choppy recovery. It will be a sawtooth recovery.”
But he likes the potential for coordination and collaboration. “In Rhode Island, everyone can pull together…because we are a small state, we can all get together in the same room," he said. “You can’t do that in other states.”
And the summit provided a full room indeed.