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Governor Raimondo Announces $45 Million, First-of-its-Kind Workforce Development Initiative to Get Rhode Islanders Back to Work

"Back to Work RI" will provide immediate pathways to good jobs and critical wraparound supports for thousands of Rhode Islanders, paving the way for an even stronger economic comeback PROVIDENCE, R.I.- Governor Gina M. Raimondo today announced an investment of $45 million for a workforce development partnership that will create thousands of job opportunities for Rhode Islanders displaced by COVID-19 and help break down traditional barriers to hiring. The initiative – Back to Work RI – will use CARES Act funding to accelerate Rhode Island's economic comeback, pairing a unifying approach to job training with critical wraparound supports.

Governor Raimondo and Mike Grey, Chair of the Governor's Workforce Board, will be joined by participating business and community leaders for a virtual event today at 2:30pm to discuss this first-of-its-kind program. The event will be streamed on Facebook Live and can be viewed at https://www.facebook.com/GinaMRaimondo.

"Getting Rhode Islanders back to work doesn't mean returning to the old way of doing business. We need to give Rhode Islanders the skills and support they need to succeed in the new economy while building pathways to good jobs for people who have traditionally faced barriers to employment," said Governor Gina M. Raimondo. "If we embrace this opportunity and supercharge the collaborative approach to job training that has helped us rebound over the past six years, Rhode Island's economy will be stronger, more equal, and more resilient than ever before."

The coronavirus pandemic has created significant job loss at a time when pre-COVID trends were already rapidly changing the makeup of our economy. Research shows that automation and Artificial Intelligence threatens 25% of U.S. jobs, and the risk level is significantly higher for jobs that do not require a college degree. Many of those hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic were already among the state's most economically vulnerable. Two-thirds of those who filed for unemployment insurance were in jobs that paid less than $20/hour, and one-third came from just three industries: food, accommodation, and retail. Back to Work RI prioritizes serving Unemployment Insurance claimants and other traditionally underserved Rhode Island communities, opening new doors for those who need it most and ensuring that Rhode Island's economic comeback leaves no one behind.

The initiative brings together private partners including Amgen, Bank of America, Care New England, CVS Health, General Dynamics Electric Boat, IGT, Infosys, Laborers' International Union of North America, Lifespan, Microsoft, Raytheon Technologies, Salesforce, Service Employees International Union, and Twitter who pledge to open opportunities to Rhode Islanders through the public-private partnership of Back to Work RI.

The Governor will also be joined for the announcement by John Hope Bryant, founder of Operation HOPE, and Zoë Baird, CEO and President of the Markle Foundation, whose organizations are national leaders in economic empowerment. She will also be joined by local partners including Nina Pande, Executive Director of Skills for Rhode Island's Future.

To ensure that every participant has the tools they need to succeed, each Back to Work RI participant will work closely with a highly trained career coach. The career coach will provide personalized job counseling as the participant navigates the program and will connect the participant to wraparound supports – such as language support, financial coaching, childcare, and access to technology. To help these coaches deliver the most effective support to their clients as they navigate the changing economy, Rhode Island will draw from the work of the Markle Foundation's Skillful Initiative, utilizing the Governors Coaching Corp and Community of Practice training model, and adopt the work of Operation HOPE. Incorporating learnings from both organizations, Rhode Island will provide intensive training and best practices to coaches from state agencies and community-based organizations, enhancing their ability to effectively guide individuals through career and educational decisions.

Traditionally, employers rely on college degrees or years of work experience to assess job applicants, limiting opportunity for people without a degree and making it harder to find the best candidate for the job. As many people impacted by the crisis look for work in new industries, employers can play a critical role by identifying their talent needs in terms of skills required to do the job. Rhode Island will also draw from Skillful's work helping employers transition to skills-based talent practices to help businesses fill jobs more quickly and build a more diverse workforce. Overall, this will help more clearly signal the skills Rhode Island employers need and help local training institutions develop curricula that will prepare people for success in good jobs. Additionally, Operation HOPE will provide critical wraparound services to ensure the financial resiliency of all Back to Work RI participants.

Back to Work RI will offer several pathways for individuals to quickly get back to work while gaining the skills they need to succeed. Employers of all sizes will create immediate roles for Rhode Islanders, focusing on higher-paying, sustainable jobs in sectors such as healthcare, financial services and IT. And every participating employer will sign a pledge to open opportunities to Rhode Islanders through the public-private partnership of Back to Work RI. This approach moves Rhode Island beyond the old ways of "train and pray" to a new paradigm – train, support, and hire.

While going through specialized, accelerated training programs, some participants will be placed in provisional employment tied to a specific position within the company. Among small and medium employers – which make up 99% of Rhode Island businesses – initial partners and industry associations include the Rhode Island Bankers Association, the Rhode Island Society of CPAs, Polaris MEP, Composites Alliance of Rhode Island, Rhode Island Nursery and Landscape Association, Building Futures Rhode Island and Teamsters Local 251.

More information on Back to Work RI can be found at www.dlt.ri.gov/backtoworkri.

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