With tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders out of work as a result of the pandemic, Gov. Gina Raimondo knew that traditional job training programs alone would not be enough to solve the state’s unemployment crisis.
Focusing instead on the “matching problem”––the connection between worker and open position that she believes to be one of the biggest barriers to job creation––Raimondo in July launched ‘Back to Work RI,’ a new initiative in partnership with Google. In addition to providing job training, the cross-sector partnership helps to match people out of work with open positions that make sense. Google also provides career coaching in the form of Skipper, its artificial intelligence-driven bot, which helps individuals prepare for the job openings they’ve been matched with.
“It’s a public-private partnership…where we’re providing job training, but we’re doing it in concert with companies who are willing to hire the folks––they are committed to hiring the people who have been trained through this initiative,” Raimondo said at the Fortune CEO Initiative virtual conference on Monday. “So, this isn’t train and pray; it’s train, graduate, and promise to get a job.”
This Google partnership is just one example of how Raimondo and her peers are leveraging private-sector relationships to respond to the simultaneous public health and economic crises caused by the pandemic. Back in April, Raimondo helped organize a partnership between Rhode Island and CVS Health to strengthen the state’s testing capacity before calling upon Amazon Web Services and Salesforce to help process unemployment insurance claims and assist with contact tracing efforts, respectively.
Raimondo’s fellow panelist, Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, also spoke to the value of consulting with private-sector companies to improve workforce development efforts, citing an existing program with IBM that works to ensure disadvantaged youth have access to job training, mentorships, and summer internships.
However, acknowledging that the reasons behind rising jobless claims go beyond the issue of workforce training and matching inefficiencies, Hogan emphasized the importance of the $500 million in emergency relief funds Maryland is spending on small businesses themselves.
“We have a AAA bond rating and had an excess of $1.3 billion in a rainy day fund, and we’re taking some of that money and investing it into keeping some of our small business moving forward,” Hogan said. “We’re trying to keep these small businesses alive, so they can keep their employees on the payroll and so we can make it through this pandemic.”
With this in mind, both Raimondo and Hogan––who sit on opposite sides of the partisan aisle, with the former a Democrat and the latter a Republican––expressed their displeasure with the lack of additional federal support. Raimondo called for immediate action.
“Congress should pass a stimulus and send it to the states,” she said. “The pain and suffering to the American people and all of our economy will be so much worse, deeper, and long lasting if Congress doesn’t do the right thing and send aid to states.”
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