PAWTUCKET — As a dozen or so unemployed Rhode Islanders sat at computer work stations polishing their resumes, Gov. Lincoln Chafee took a walk through the netWORKri Career Center at 175 Main St. Friday morning to see what services are being offered.
Chafee was accompanied by Charles J. Fogarty, the newly appointed Department of Labor and Training Director. Fogarty commented along the tour that the state's jobless rate had dropped to 11.2 percent, by one-tenth of a percentage point, and the number of Rhode Island-based jobs had increased to 2,600 — the biggest monthly jump in five years. Yet, as he also noted, the state's recovery rate is still slow and much more needs to be done to help Rhode Islanders find work.
Among the key places providing assistance are the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training's netWORKri Career One-Stop Centers. Chafee visited the Pawtucket site, one of two comprehensive centers along with one in Providence, that offer an array of services including employer and job seeker research and placement, career counseling, on-line learning, and occupational skills training referrals. Three other netWORKri Re-employment Centers, located in Wakefield, West Warwick and Woonsocket, focus on career and training services.
Joseph Healey, Coordinator of Employment and Training at netWORKri, led Chafee and Fogarty through the maze of offices and classrooms that are designed to help jobless residents, young and old, to find their employment niche. They viewed one classroom filled with older adults who were in the process of obtaining their General Education Diploma (GED), and watched netWORKri Counselor Elliott Fox demonstrate how to search for specific jobs on the EmployRI.org website. As Chafee peered over his shoulder, Fox plugged “welder” into the search base and showed the governor how several current job openings in the Rhode Island area for people with those skills immediately pop up.
Chafee stopped to talk to Pamela Mitchell of Pawtucket, who told him of her frustration at being unable to find steady, full-time employment since her last job at a Walgreens in 2009. “I've been very discouraged. There is not a lot out there,” Mitchell told the governor. She did say that she had availed herself of some of netWORKri's services over the years and said the staff had been helpful to her in getting her resume on-line. “I'm not very computer savvy,” she admitted. She also said the staff had notified her about a job fair at the Christmas Tree Shops that was taking place the next day
Jennifer Masse, a netWORKri principal employment and training interviewer, explained to Chafee and Fogarty how the Metrix on-line learning system offers people the chance to gain training and certification in a wide variety of job areas. The training programs are even offered in several different languages, Masse said. Both the Metrix training and the EmployRI job board are free services that are available to Rhode Islanders from any computer with an internet connection.
Answering questions from the media after the tour, Chafee said that while he is heartened by the slight decrease in the number of unemployed in the state, he said the challenge is still to improve people's access to jobs. He said he thinks the best way for the state to try to lure new business is by achieving a balanced budget, having no corruption issues and offering an environment of certainty and stability.
Chafee cited his commitment in his proposed fiscal year 2012 budget to fully funding the new education funding formula and to invest an additional $10 million in public higher education—a move that would prevent a tuition increase at the Community College of Rhode Island and provide benefits to all three public higher education institutions.
In addition, the governor said he has encouraged Fogarty to work closely with Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Keith Stokes to coordinate a workforce development plan that will meet the needs of businesses and promote job creation and economic growth in the state.
Chafee also pointed to the netWORKri career centers, saying he was impressed with both the dedication and talent of the staff as well as the range of valuable services that are provided free of charge to Rhode Islanders. “In this difficult economic climate, it's more important than ever that our state make these important services available to all those seeking jobs and to employers looking to hire,” he said.
Fogarty urged the state's jobless to take advantage of the services available at the five netWORKri career centers located throughout the state. He said that, particularly for those individuals who find themselves laid off or stuck in a dead-end job, “workforce development is the biggest asset.”
Fogarty added that there are several areas that are predicted to be poised for job growth, including advanced manufacturing, biotechnology, marine trades, health care, hospitality, “green” technology and the construction trades.
In response to questions from the press, Chafee also spoke about the possibility of jobs creation coming from an expansion of casino gambling with live gaming tables, but said this is an area that requires more study.
Douglas Hadden, director of constituent services and communications for Mayor Donald Grebien, spoke of the value of having a netWORKri career center in Pawtucket. The office, which has been located in the Blackstone Valley Visitor Center for the past 14 years, is the largest and busiest of all five career centers, and Hadden noted that a lease agreement is in the process of being finalized that will keep it in the city for another three years.