Monday, July 13, 2009

Green Jobs Sound Great RI, But...

The rise of the global economy has forever changed the way the world does business. Textiles and low-tech manufacturing were once the dominant industry of the United States economy. In Rhode Island, jewelry manufacturing was what the state was know for. This niche in the national economy of the United States provided jobs either directly or indirectly to many Rhode Islanders. However, that time period has long passed, and now Rhode Island must find a new niche in a global economy. For years the Rhode Island leadership has proclaimed that a new Rhode Island industry is on the way to save the state. How many times have we heard this? I remember when the leadership said that Quonset Point would solve Rhode Island's troubled industry by using our greatest resource, the Narragansett Bay, to our advantage. However, all that idea did was make waves. Then they said the bio-technology industry would come and flourish here in Rhode Island, yet the industry never came. Today, the leadership says that Rhode Island will become a “green economy” with “green-collar workers.” To be honest, I applaud the leadership for taking the time to realize that Rhode Island needs to attract new and innovative industries. I also believe that all three of these ideas, among others, could and should already be providing high-paying jobs to Rhode Islanders. What I do not applaud is the poor efficiency and lack of thoughtful effort by the leadership to make these industries a reality. There is many different reasons why the leadership fails at attracting new industries to Rhode Island, high business taxes being one of them; but where Rhode Island lacks the most is at it's school system which fails to prepare students to meet the skills necessary for these new industries.

Rhode Island's Economic Development Corporation, known as the EDC, has stated that they are working with the state's universities and Brown University to develop programs that will educate a workforce for green jobs. That is a step in the right direction, however, the EDC as well as the Rhode Island leadership has failed to recognize that not everyone has the plans, motivation, or financial ability to go further in higher education. The leadership can continue to make speeches about how everyone should go to college and get a degree; I think every Rhode Islander believes in that too. However, for practicality, we must accept that there are some high-school graduates that will not take their education any more further then high school. It is not a pleasant fact, but a fact none the less. These students, who have nothing else but a high-school diploma are not prepared to work in this new economy that must happen in Rhode Island. This is because Rhode Island does not prepare their young with practical skills and vocations that can help them obtain entry level jobs in growing industries. With this said, Rhode Island should look to preparing it's high school students with skills that can help them flourish in this new economy.

Coventry Regional and Technical Center at Coventry High School provides several different programs for students who wish to either have additional skills in a vocation or whom plan to enter the workforce after high school. Manufacturing/Precision Machining is one of those programs. Rhode Island must revamp the programs provided in it's technical and vocational programs at it's high schools. As great as that is, precision machining is a dying industry, yet instead of converting this program into preparing students for a green-type of manufacturing job, we continue to provide training for an industry that is leaving Rhode Island for overseas. Rhode Island must reform it's vocational and technical programs to provide training for entry level positions in emerging industries. Rhode Island should look to the Community College of Rhode Island and it's certificate programs. These certificate programs, such as the Biotechnology Certificate, prepare students for entry level positions in emerging industries. Rhode Island should look to reform it's technical school's programs based on CCRI's certificate programs. Instead of those students learning a trade that has outlived it's usefulness, these students who may not want to go to college, will have the opportunity to have a certification that can give them an entry level job at an emerging industry instead of flipping burgers at the local burger hut. In addition, these programs should be tied into programs at the colleges so that students can also earn credits towards a degree program and furthering the motivation to continue with their education. With some companies, as long as you continue to advance oneself in the given industry, will ultimately pay for some if not all of the cost of higher education.

In addition to reforming the vocational and technical schools, Rhode Island should also expand on jump starting it's students who have performed well in academics. During the last years of high school, students that have shown excellence in studies should be given the opportunity to “start early.” Rhode Island has early enrollment programs that gives the opportunity to a select bunch of high schools students the chance to finish high school and earn college credits at the same time. It allows these students to be enrolled at both high school and college and gives them a jump start in college. These programs should be extended to more students so that Rhode Island can prepare more of it's young at an accelerated rate. In addition, it is a great motivational tool for students as they will be more enticed to work harder in high school to make it into the program as well as to continue with education after high school.

If Rhode Island works to prepare it's young with real world skills and knowledge of emerging industries, then the emerging industries will come seeking their aid. It is a necessity that we provide modern day training in bio-tech, computer networking, business and commerce, green jobs, etc. Let us be a flagship of attracting new industry instead of taking the leftovers of modern industry.

1 comment:

  1. Great job on this piece, Matt. Vocational/technical training is a lost art in the post-industrial age, and if we're looking to re-introduce ever-more sophisticated manufacturing to the Rhode Island economy, we have to prepare our young people to do it. Too many students get shuffled off into college with no idea what they want to learn, and end up coming out with baccalaureates in philosophy or psychology that are valueless in the real economy without going on to grad school. Instead, these young people should be given the opportunity to study something that A. puts them in a better economic position without the debt of higher ed and B. provides a real direction for our economy and our educational system.

    I think this dovetails nicely with the implementation of some form of regionalization and a real state-wide ed policy. If we want to bring biotech and eco-friendly heavy industry to lil' Rhody, we better be able to prove that we have the best equipped workforce in the nation to handle it. We must keep in mind that every state in the union thinks it's going to be *the* spot for the greenconomy to plant its roots. The reality will be that a few regional hotspots will develop around the best-prepared populations.

    A vocational high school approach to this scenario could be a critical stepping stone for finding a new niche for Rhode Island. In fact, here's an idea: let's lobby some corporations, tell them that we need their help establishing curricula for innovative programs. Promise a capable workforce in four years. We can get college-grad paychecks for 18 year olds in Rhode Island, we just have to do it right.

    I look forward to more debate on this issue.


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