Langevin Launches "RISE Tour" to Build Skilled Economy

Mar 15, 2012 Issues: Economy and Jobs, Education, Small Business

Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI) launched his “Rhode Island’s Skilled Economy (RISE) Tour” today to advocate initiatives and create partnerships that will close the skills gap and strengthen the state’s economy. Beginning at Coventry High School, Langevin, who is co-chair of the Congressional Career and Technical Education (CTE) Caucus, announced his bipartisan initiative to restore funding for the Perkins Act, a major federal funding source for career and technical education, which prepares over 14 million “college and career-ready” students and displaced workers.

Emphasizing the importance of these resources, Langevin discussed how Rhode Island students will benefit from the program’s focus on providing access to the latest technology, equipment, and training. He met with Career and Technical Education Center Director Lori Ferguson, students, and instructors at Coventry High School in the “café” which houses the culinary program.

“Career and technical education produces college and career ready students who have been prepared both academically and with real-world experience to succeed in high-wage, high-skilled, and high-demand career fields such as engineering, cybersecurity, and health care,” Langevin said. “I have met so many wonderful teachers and administrators like Coventry’s Lori Ferguson across our state, but they can’t do their job unless they have resources for their students and the opportunity to collaborate with local businesses to identify workforce demands and internship opportunities.”

The Perkins Act funding helps Coventry High School keep its supplies up to date and functional for a variety of courses, including kitchen equipment for the culinary program, to ensure students are fully prepared for available jobs. Due to current economic conditions, enrollment across the country in Career and Technical Education programs, which also offer retraining to many adult workers, is at the highest level in over eight years.

With his fellow co-chair of the CTE caucus, Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-PA), Langevin is leading the effort in Congress to restore Perkins Act funding to the Fiscal Year (FY) 2010 level. The program was reduced by $140 million FY2011 and further in FY2012. He and Thompson have rallied colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join them in writing to Democratic and Republican leaders of the House Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees education funding. In requesting $1.27 billion for the program, they stressed that in a time of fiscal constraints, workforce development must be recognized as a top priority for the country to reach its full economic potential.

“[Due to recent cutbacks], high schools, career technical education centers, and community and technical colleges have…been put in the unfortunate position of offering fewer services to students who most need education and training,” states the letter that is being delivered to Subcommittee Chairman Denny Rehberg (R-MT) and Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) when Congress reconvenes next week.  “Perkins can serve to bridge the skills gap and ensure the unemployed and under-employed are qualified to take the jobs that will make our economic recovery viable. If further reductions to Perkins continue, many effective education and employment training opportunities will cease to exist.”

The skills gap has been a particularly significant drag on Rhode Island’s economy, contributing to the state’s persistently high unemployment. In stops at Thundermist Health Center and Millonzi Fine Catering later in the day, Langevin discussed with the companies’ leaders the need for better collaboration with the education community to help them fill available jobs.

“In visits to businesses, I repeatedly hear they are struggling to fill openings because applicants lack necessary skills,” said Langevin. “Addressing this problem requires better cooperation between the businesses doing the hiring and the educators preparing the students.”

Today’s events build on prior efforts by Langevin to improve the state’s workforce development, including his RISE economic forum in 2010 and his Pathways to Prosperity Summit last year that brought together leaders in the business, education and labor communities to find solutions to these challenges. Many of those leaders continue to meet to implement recommendations.

As he continues his RISE Tour over the coming months, Langevin is asking companies, job training facilities and other organizations that want to be involved to contact his office with ideas for building the partnerships Rhode Island needs.