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Whitehouse unveils new Bill to help Rhode Island manufacturers address workforce challenges and support innovation

Industry News | June 30, 2018 | By:

Legislation provides funding for manufacturers to train employees and retain institutional knowledge

U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse today joined Congressman David Cicilline and leaders in Rhode Island’s manufacturing industry to unveil new legislation to help manufacturers temporarily retain retiring employees to train a replacement and transfer their institutional knowledge. Whitehouse made the announcement at Cooley Group, a fabric manufacturer in Pawtucket.

“Local manufacturers are facing new challenges recruiting and training skilled workers as more Baby Boomers get ready to retire and take their institutional knowledge with them,” said Whitehouse. “The best way to learn the technical skills that advanced manufacturers need is on the job. This legislation will help make Rhode Island manufacturers more competitive in the global marketplace by making sure new hires get the training they need to hit the ground running.”

Whitehouse’s Retain Innovation and Manufacturing Excellence Act would establish a pilot program through the National Institute of Standards and Technology that would allow regional Manufacturing Extension Partnerships (MEPs) to apply for targeted workforce training grants provided by the Department of Commerce. The funding awarded to a manufacturing business, which would be matched by state or local funds, would be used to retain a departing employee for up to 90 days while they train a new or promoted employee on the unique functions of their job.

“Good-paying, full-time manufacturing jobs are the key to rebuilding Rhode Island’s middle class,” said Cicilline. “I’m proud to join Senator Whitehouse today. It’s long past time we start honoring hard work with a good wage again and this innovation legislation will help achieve that.”

The Retain Innovation and Manufacturing Excellence Act would authorize up to $20 million to be used for the pilot program. The federal initiative is based on a proposal developed by the Rhode Island Textiles Innovation Network, a group of textiles manufacturers. The legislation will be introduced in the Senate later today.

“The MEP national network is deeply connected to the manufacturing community nationwide,” said Christian Cowan, Polaris MEP Center Director. “Polaris MEP staff work with the management and employees in manufacturing companies daily to help them innovate and grow. We see firsthand the need to capture the expertise Baby Boomers learned on the job and share it with the next generation. This legislation will help manufacturers, in Rhode Island and nationally, maintain their competitive edge.”

The manufacturing sector is disproportionately experiencing the challenges of an aging workforce. The percentage of manufacturing workers in Rhode Island age 55 and older more than doubled between 1996 and 2016 from 15.5 percent to 32.8 percent, according to the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training.

“Almost any survey of manufacturing companies will identify the skills gap as a major impediment to future success,” said Michael Woody, President of the Rhode Island Textile Innovation Network and CEO of Trans Tex. “The companies associated with the Rhode Island Textile Innovation Network thank Senator Whitehouse for proposing legislation to help manufacturers ensure that critical skills are passed along to the next generation.”

Whitehouse has long been a champion for growing Rhode Island’s manufacturing industry. The Composites Alliance of Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Textiles Innovation Network were both formed in part as a result of Whitehouse’s efforts to foster collaboration between industry leaders and capitalize on the state’s abundance of manufacturing expertise.

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