Classroom to Career Tour Blog
Venture for America
Congressman Langevin shares a networking dinner with VFA participants.
One hundred thousand jobs by 2025.
If that doesn’t pique your interest, I don’t know what will. It certainly grabbed my attention. That goal – 100,000 jobs in less than 15 years – is the ambitious undertaking of Venture for America, an organization I was able to learn more about during a roundtable discussion at New England Institute of Technology. Venture for America, much like Teach for America, identifies bright, enterprising college graduates and connects them with professional opportunities for two years. Instead of placing them in classrooms, however, Venture for America places the students in start-up companies across the country. They help to grow those companies while gaining valuable insight into how to become an entrepreneur. Some Venture for America fellows stay on with their employer beyond the initial placement. Others tack two years of experience onto their resumes and find new start-ups to work with. And all fellows develop a foundation that gives them the tools to start companies of their own. It is economic development in its most basic form: train young people and give them hands-on experience, and they will do the rest.
Venture for America doesn’t create jobs, necessarily; it cultivates an environment that makes new jobs possible.
Venture for America’s physical base is in New York, but they have many fellows right here in Rhode Island. What I was surprised to hear is that nearly all of the fellows are from out-of-state. They came from Harvard, Yale, Princeton – some of the best universities in the country – and moved to Rhode Island for the opportunity to become immersed in the competitive culture of start-up business. At a time when we hear of so many young Rhode Islanders fleeing the state in search of better professional opportunities, it is encouraging to see a program trying to reverse that trend. Venture for America is importing young talent, and many of those young people told me that they hope to stay in the Ocean State well past the two-year mark.
When you grow up here, it is easy to dwell on the negative and take the positive aspects for granted, but these fellows are seeing our beautiful state with fresh eyes. Enthusiastic and motivated, they want to invest in their new home and make a commitment to stay here. That enthusiasm is catching, and I hope will invigorate other Rhode Islanders to focus on and promote the strengths of our state.
Community Kitchen participants share their experiences in the course and out in the field.
Not long ago, Lauren considered herself an introvert. The idea of a job interview left her frozen with fear and nerves.
After meeting her yesterday, I find that hard to believe.
In just a few weeks in the Community Kitchen program at the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, Lauren has blossomed personally, socially and professionally. Being a student in the kitchen, she said, has brought her out of her shell. She told me that speaking to a Congressman with ease was something she never imagined she could do. Yet she did it with intelligence and poise.
The Community Kitchen is a 14-week culinary training program run by the Food Bank. Low-income or unemployed adults of all ages come to the program to learn how to work in the culinary industry. Every day, as students hone those skills, they’re doing good for others as well. Through the Kids Cafe, students help prepare healthy meals for low-income children at meal sites in the community.
Aside from the training in the kitchen, participants sharpen the soft skills that will make them more attractive applicants for future jobs. They learn resume writing and interview skills, and work with supporters in the community – including representatives from Citizens Bank – to gain a better understanding of what employers are looking for.
Halfway through the program, the students leave the kitchen for on-the-job internships. Every Monday, they report to food service providers from the Capital Grille to area nursing homes, getting used to the demands of working in a kitchen and building relationships with industry leaders. Food Bank CEO Andrew Schiff tells me that there are more than 20 Rhode Island businesses that have supported the program by opening spots for Community Kitchen interns, and he can tick off multiple success stories where interns were hired after graduation. That prospect, of getting a new job in an exciting, fast-paced field, is invigorating to Community Kitchen students, some of whom spent decades in other careers before finding themselves out of work. The Community Kitchen offers them a second chance and a second career, and for people like Lauren, a chance to grow into a stronger, more confident person.
Billed as “Rhode Island’s one-stop career center system,” netWORKri was a natural choice for my Classroom to Career tour. Thank you so much to Manager Rebecca Mahle for hosting us, to Laura Hart from DLT for coordinating the visit and to DLT Director Charlie Fogarty for joining us for a discussion of the state’s economic climate. A partnership of professional labor, training and education organizations, netWORKri is managed by the state’s Department of Labor and Training. As such, it is often the first resource people turn to when they find themselves unemployed.
I met two of those people during my visit yesterday. One young woman moved to Rhode Island just three weeks ago, and doesn’t know anyone in the area. She found out about netWORKri and was utilizing their job search software. She is enthusiastic about the resources available to her and said she is confident that netWORKri will help her find the right career in her new home. The young man sitting next to her has been coming to the West Warwick location for seven weeks, meeting with counselors to improve his resume, sharpen his soft skills and look for work. He too had a great outlook, and said he was ready for a change in his professional life.
NetWORKri offers a variety of workshops that include resume writing, interviewing skills, dressing for success and basic computer skills. One-on-one assistance with career counselors is available, or visitors can work independently. Yesterday, the two job seekers I mentioned were using the program as a chance to network, too, sharing experiences and encouraging one another in their respective job searches.
NetWORKri offers the full gamut of employment services, and even if you already have a stellar resume, it is a great place to go for guidance. During one of my earlier stops on the Classroom to Career tour, a program participant at New Horizons mentioned that he was having a hard time getting an interview. He said some employers use automated programs to whittle down the pool of applicants, and he wondered how he could get his name past that initial round. At netWORKri, counselors showed me an interesting tip sheet with advice on how to make it through applicant tracking systems. For example, they advise job seekers to avoid sending a resume as a PDF, because most systems lack a standard way to read those documents. Applicants should also incorporate words and skills listed in the job posting. These are small steps that can make a big difference when looking for work, and I plan to share the tip sheets with the counselors at New Horizons.
We all face hard times in one way or another. For the many Rhode Islanders who are still unemployed or underemployed, it is crucial that we connect them with the resources out there – resources like netWORKri – to get them back on their feet. Knowledge is power, so by sharing information with job seekers and job providers, we only stand to improve our state’s economic outlook.
Rhode Island School Counselor Association
Congressman Langevin listens to questions from RISCA members about his Counseling for Career Choice Act.
I can’t say thank you enough to the Rhode Island School Counselor Association for hosting me at their summer board meeting yesterday. They are an incredible group of professionals and we had a very productive conversation. I introduced the Counseling for Career Choice Act in June to ensure that high school students are made fully aware of their career and education options prior to graduation. School counselors across the state are doing that work every day.
An interesting point that was brought up at the meeting is that many students, and especially their parents, shy away from vocational training programs because of the stigma surrounding them. Parents worry that putting their child in a “voctech” program eliminates the possibility of going to college, which couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, technology-related industries are growing, and many vocational programs develop a skill set that would serve students well if they chose to pursue IT in college. Outside of IT, the fact is that education is not one-size-fits-all. Many people, myself included, are visual learners, and it is up to school counselors to identify those proclivities in order to direct students into the programs that best fit their strengths and interests.
That work cannot begin early enough, in my opinion. Regrettably, elementary school counselor positions have been reduced, or even eliminated, due to budget cuts, but these educators are truly the first line of defense. They have the ability to establish a rapport and a level of trust with students, which extends beyond the classroom. Teachers are already stretched thin, and adding the job of counselor to their workload is a disservice. If we want to prevent substantial challenges down the road, we must identify academic or emotional challenges early on. To do that, we must invest in school counselors.
At the high school level, professional school counselors take on multiple roles, including career coach and college admissions specialist. I have spoken to many Rhode Island employers that, despite the challenging economic climate, are looking to hire. Too often, they say they are unable to find workers with the necessary skills. We need to connect private industry with our public school counselors so they can give students the most up-to-date information on industries with high-growth potential, whether they are going right into the workforce or plan to pursue higher education.
The more information our young people have, the easier it will be to make smart decisions that are right for them. School counselors, and the groups like RISCA that support them, are more important than ever.
Thundermist Health Center
Congressman Langevin reads up on the growth that Thundermist Health Center has experienced over the past five years.
I’ve been to Thundermist’s West Warwick health center before and have always been very impressed with their operation. Last year, they delivered care to more than 35,000 patients in more than 180,000 visits, and the numbers keep increasing. But it was a July article in the Providence Journal that piqued my interest this time around. This summer, Thundermist launched a first-of-its-kind medical residency program in Rhode Island in collaboration with Kent Hospital. Throughout the Classroom to Career tour, I intend to talk to career counselors, skills instructors and potential employees in a variety of fields, and health care is a crucial sector to our state’s workforce.
In most medical residency programs, future doctors spend their days in a hospital. When Kent offered to transition their program over to Thundermist, the community health center jumped at the opportunity. Now, these residents are exposed to the full range of health-related fields, working alongside not only primary care physicians, but also social workers and dentists. Their experience includes rotations back at Kent Hospital as well. They get a well-rounded, inclusive training experience. Regardless of what type of medicine they choose to practice, they will be better doctors for having seen patients at every step of care.
Kent and Thundermist officials believe that their unique residency collaboration will make Kent’s program more attractive to potential residents and could serve to keep locally-educated doctors in Rhode Island after they have completed their residencies. Due to the size of the other Thundermist locations, there are no current plans to expand the residency program between other hospitals, but Thundermist CEO Chuck Jones hopes that the program will serve as an example to other hospitals and residency programs across the country.
Once again, Rhode Island is at the forefront of health care. I hope I see those residents, a few years down the line, practicing medicine right here in the very state that provided them with the highest quality training.
Congressman Langevin talks with Justin, an AS220 Youth participant who is a talented photographer and visual artist.
“It’s like a skills training factory,” Artistic Director Bert Crenca said as images of young artists flashed across the screen. In the video, students shared their stories of what brought them to AS220 and what continues to bring them back, day after day. As the video fades to black, Bert dabs at his eyes and his coworkers tease him for his sentimentality, but his passion is refreshing.
AS220 is a familiar name in Rhode Island, but after visiting yesterday, I think many people would be surprised by the extent of the organization’s reach. AS220 is a forum for the arts in Rhode Island, providing residential and work studios, galleries, performance spaces and educational spaces. They even have a café and rent out space to local businesses, creating a partially self-sustaining block of downtown Providence. Almost all of the students who come to AS220 Youth in particular come from the urban core, with preference given to those in the “system,” either through DCYF or the Training School. They have faced immense challenges already and AS220 aims to catch them before they fall through the cracks.
I got to meet some of the young artists participating in AS220 Youth programs. Justin showed me some of his photographs and sketches, and I admitted to him that I envy his talent. My father was very artistic, a talent that was not passed on to me or my siblings. Justin focuses mostly on photography, but other students take courses in graphic design, music, performance art, printmaking, fabrication, dance – the whole gamut of the arts. As a founding member of the Congressional STEAM Caucus, I recognize that art and design have real-world applications, and these classes can serve as a professional foundation for the future. Art and design improve the understanding of the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, so what seems like elective programming will only help these students succeed academically and beyond.
Anne Kugler, youth director, explained that the real work happens outside of the classroom. It’s the arts that brings young people in and gets them excited, but AS220 tries to forge close relationships with these at-risk teens in order to provide stability and comfort. Once they are hooked, AS220 incorporates job readiness programming, coaching students in areas like resume writing and interview skills. The organization also works with the state Department of Labor and Training to place young people in summer employment through AS220, getting them ready for the workforce after graduation.
I am very impressed by the AS220 operation. The staff is so dedicated to the cause, and the students are visibly excited to be a part of the organization. I can’t wait to go back!
New Horizons Learning Center
New Horizons Computer Learning Center proved to be a great first stop on my Classroom to Career Tour. Located in Providence, New Horizons offers technical training and certification in everything from Microsoft Office to graphic design applications and security software. According to New Horizons, 70 percent of skills acquired through their programs are applied on the job within the first eight weeks. That comes as no surprise when you consider how reliant we are on technology, both individually and as a country. Our power grid, financial systems, national security apparatus - everything that enables our way of life – operates in cyberspace.
In order to be a competitive candidate for employment, chances are you need to be comfortable with technology. For a young person, a targeted course in cybersecurity could make the difference for getting the well-paying position he’s had his eye on. For an adult trying to return to the workplace, IT certification can enhance the experience she already has on her resume.
Not only does New Horizons hone those skills for students of all ages, but they also work hard to connect graduates with employment. They provide students with the soft skills they need, like resume building and interview tips, to make them more attractive to potential employers. That work is paying off, with many students lining up jobs before they have even left the program. And if an employer is dissatisfied with the training, or a student needs a refresher, they can return at no cost within the first six months of leaving New Horizons.
“New Horizons takes pride in offering training programs that are meeting the demand of area employers,” said Student Placement Coach Nick Azzarone. “According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the United States Department of Labor and Training, employment of Computer Support Specialists is expected to grow 18 percent from 2010 to 2020, about as fast as the average for all occupations. I personally want to echo this statement as New Horizons currently maintains a 95 percent Placement Rate. This proves that Rhode Islanders with the proper skills and motivation can be as successful as any other candidates from any state or country.”
Thanks again to the staff at New Horizons and to the students for asking such thoughtful questions. Keep up the great work!
Langevin Announces Classroom to Career Tour
In 2010, Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI) convened the Rhode Island Summit on the Economy to discuss strategies for closing the skills gap, strengthening the state’s workforce and improving Rhode Island’s economic outlook. The forum gave way to a Rhode Island Skilled Economy, or RISE, Tour that has continued over the past three years.
Throughout the month of August, Langevin picks up where he left off.
The RISE Classroom to Career tour will highlight skills and job training programs across Langevin’s district, allowing the Congressman to connect with program coordinators to find out more about current employer demands and the resources needed to prepare Rhode Island’s workforce accordingly. Langevin is co-chair of the Congressional Career and Technical Education Caucus and has recently introduced the Counseling for Career Choice Act to ensure that high school students are made fully aware of their career and education options prior to graduation. The Classroom to Career tour puts that concept into practice, both for students still unsure of their futures and for adults looking for stable employment.
“As the economic recovery continues locally and nationally, more employers are looking for qualified workers. Skills and job training programs are critical to meeting that demand,” Langevin said. “In order to keep businesses in Rhode Island, we must maintain a skilled workforce. In order to keep our promising young people here, we must maintain quality education and training programs and the promise of good jobs to come. If we support our workforce, they will in turn boost our economy.”
Classroom to Career stops will continue beyond next week, with further information to follow. Stops are expected to include the netWORKri branch in West Warwick to discuss resources for job seekers, the Rhode Island Community Food Bank’s Community Kitchen to meet with adults finding second careers in the culinary industry and the Venture for America program that connects college graduates with start-up companies.
The Classroom to Career tour will culminate in a Back to School day in September, at which time Langevin will share what he learned in Rhode Island career “classrooms” with students across the state.
DATE: TUESDAY, AUGUST 6
WHAT: Meeting with New Horizons IT counselors and students, and tour of facility
WHEN: 1:30 p.m.
WHERE: New Horizons Computer Learning Center
315 Iron Horse Way, Suite 102, Providence
DATE: WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 7
WHAT: Meeting with AS220 Youth coordinators and participants of arts-training programs, and tour of AS220 industries
WHEN: 2:30 p.m.
WHERE: Meet at the AS220 Performance Space
115 Empire Street, Providence
WHAT: Tour Thundermist facility and discuss new residency program that immerses residents in all facets of health care
WHEN: 4 p.m.
WHERE: Thundermist Health Center
186 Providence Street, West Warwick
DATE: THURSDAY, AUGUST 8
WHAT: Rhode Island School Counselor Association summer meeting to talk to professional school counselors about the Counseling for Career Choice Act and preparing young people for life after graduation
WHEN: 2 p.m.
WHERE: New England Institute of Technology
1 New England Tech Blvd, East Greenwich