Also published on the Providence Journal

The biggest challenge Rhode Island companies face is finding skilled workers to hire. We’d know–together, we represent some of the biggest industries in our state and employ more than 40,000 Rhode  Islanders. And while our companies and business models are very different, we’ve shared an experience for the last few decades: in times of both high and low unemployment, through economic booms and recessions, we have struggled to fill open positions that require specialized skillsets.

Fifty years ago, people could graduate from high school, immediately enter the workforce and earn a family-supporting income. But our economy has changed. Today, many companies–including our own–offer exciting, good-paying jobs with paths for career growth, but they demand particular skills beyond what students learn in high school or even in some college programs.

Rhode Island has a long history of experimenting with job training programs as a way to bridge that divide. Before Governor Raimondo created Real Jobs Rhode Island in 2015, few achieved any significant measure of success. Before Real Jobs RI, state leaders created and ran job training programs in a silo, without assessing the specific needs of the business community or the state of our workforce. People were given training that didn’t match up with what employers were actually looking for and struggled to find good-paying jobs in their new field. Rhode Island stayed stuck.

Real Jobs RI changed that. Under the Real Jobs RI model, business is brought in not only as a partner, but as an active participant in the program. Curriculum isn’t developed by some government official who’s never worked in the field, it’s being created by actual Rhode Island employers looking to fill vacant positions at their companies.

To date, more than 6,000 Rhode Islanders have gone through Real Jobs RI. The program’s track record is impressive: more than 80% of trainees are offered jobs immediately after completion. The Manufacturing sector relies strongly on Real Jobs.  Real jobs provides the basics and allows our businesses to then train them to their specific needs.

Every Real Jobs RI program is different, which makes sense: careers in advanced manufacturing, defense and health care require different skills. And it’s not just our industries that are represented. Real Jobs RI supports sectors driving our state’s economy with programs in health care, construction, defense, tech, design, manufacturing and countless others [will play with this depending on who the eventual companies are].

For businesses like ours, Real Jobs RI is revolutionary. The program allows us to hire new workers, retrain and promote current employees, and double down on our commitment to doing business in this state we love.

As two of the more than 1,000 employers served by Real Jobs, we ask the Governor and General Assembly for increased funding in this year’s budget. It’s rare for a program to benefit workers, employers and the state at the same time. But Real Jobs RI really does. Every dollar gives Rhode Island workers the opportunity to start or further an exciting career. Every dollar gives businesses like ours the skilled workforce we desperately need to grow. Simply put, Real Jobs RI is a win-win.

Real Jobs RI is one of the most innovative and successful job training programs in the country. Let’s ensure its future by expanding investments today.