As Rhode Island’s unemployment rate lingers above 10 percent, Cranston and Providence are teaming up to try to get residents back to work. Under the leadership of Workforce Solutions, the cities are collaborating on a series of eight industry-targeted job fairs starting next Wednesday and running through November.
“Today is an important day, as we continue to collectively address a critical economic issue, and that’s workforce development,” Janet Raymond said at a press conference Monday.
Raymond is the senior vice president of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, and a member of the Workforce Investment Board. She believes this initiative will change, and improve, the process of job searching for unemployed Rhode Islanders.
“Industry-specific job fairs, I believe, are a tremendously successful way to match these two groups together,” she said. “We have a chance to connect our state’s unemployed and underemployed with industry.”
The job fairs, which begin on Feb. 13, will all be held at the Roger Williams Park Casino. Space is limited, so interested Rhode Islanders are asked to pre-register by visiting www.providenceri.com/wspc/job-fair-registration or call 680-8570.
“Recent numbers show that unemployment is still unacceptably high. We need to accelerate that downward movement,” said Providence Mayor Angel Taveras.
Rather than host general opportunity job fairs, the coordinators wanted to target specific industries, including health care, construction, hospitality and tourism, education, information technology/finance/insurance, manufacturing, retail and banking, and accounting.
Each of the employers participating in the respective fairs have been screened by Workforce Solutions, and have openings currently. Many Cranston businesses will participate, including AccessPoint RI, Concord Home and Health Care, and Hope Nursing, among others.
“The business sectors we chose are all demand occupations,” said Workforce Solutions of Providence/Cranston Director Robert Ricci.
In particular, the speakers agreed that health care positions are both in demand and open for applicants. Osbourne Easter, human resource specialist and director of veterans employment at the Providence Veterans Administration, said the VA has a variety of opportunities available, from housekeepers to security. Nurses are in demand especially.
“There’s a whole gamut of what we’re looking for,” he said. “We always have positions. Many people just don’t know where to go to apply.”
Cranston Mayor Allan Fung is confident that breaking the fairs into industry sectors will improve the experience both for potential employees and the employers.
“Many times we’ve seen job fairs that tend to be a shotgun-type affair,” he said, adding that these industry-specific fairs will allow potential employees to tailor their résumés for available positions, and also showcase their specific talents.
He thanked workforce development partners like the Cranston Chamber of Commerce and the Comprehensive Community Action Program (CCAP) for their work in training the unemployed and underemployed, and bringing attention to the opportunities currently available.
“They are the frontline people,” he said.
At CCAP, Rhode Islanders can access résumé help, job training and education resources, like GED programs. Last year, CCAP graduated 365 GED students. The agency’s Executive Director Joanne McGunagle said the demands for services continue to rise, especially for young people entering the workforce.
“Unemployment is so bad; they realize they need a high school degree or equivalent,” she said.
At the Cranston Chamber, they too are working with young people, collaborating with the Cranston Area Career and Technical Center (CACTC) at Cranston West, developing internship opportunities for them and potentially setting up a co-work space in the near future out of Garden City.
“What we want to try to do is get employers engaged with them. They’re doing great work up there,” Chamber President Stephen Boyle said of CACTC.
Fung said the initiatives at the local and state level are all aiming to achieve the same end: a more vibrant economy. He says that is a mission everyone in the state can agree upon.
“Ds and Rs – that’s checked at the door. The more opportunities that are out there, the better,” he said.
During Monday’s press conference, the Department of Labor and Training and the state department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals announced their own job fairs, to be held on Feb. 7 and 8 at the Providence netWORKri Career Center – the same site as this week’s event. Taveras was asked if he felt undercut by the timing – a 2:16 p.m. announcement that was emailed to the media during the 2 p.m. conference. His message was the more, the merrier.
“I would love that we have job fairs every single day,” he said. “It’s really about everyone coming together to fulfill the employment needs of many of the employers.”
Often, he said, publicizing those opportunities is all it takes.
“There are jobs available, but there’s an issue sometimes connecting people to those jobs,” Taveras said.
In addition to putting people back to work and improving the state’s economy, he hopes that the initiative will improve quality of life for many Rhode Islanders. He believes that an individual’s self-esteem and self-worth is closely linked to their ability to support themselves and their families.
“We want to do everything we can to help people be able to provide for themselves,” he said. “The goal is to get as much information to people as you can, as quickly as you possibly can.”
Job opportunities will be continuously posted to the capital city’s website as they become available, and the general site is open to all employers, including those not participating in the job fairs. Visit www.providenceri.com/wspc for more information.