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Federal grant to fund state employment projects

Until this month, the state failed to meet the grant’s application requirements on employment for 14 years

Rhode Island’s Department of Education and Department of Labor and Training will split a $670,000 federal Workforce Investment Act grant, Gov. Linoln Chafee’s ’75 P’14 P’17 office announced earlier this month.

The U.S Department of Labor allocates grants through the Workforce Investment Act with an incentive-based system. The act provides a framework for each state to better prepare its population to join the workforce, and the U.S. department allocates funds based on whether a state achieves its employment goals, said Laura Hart, communications manager for the state labor department.

Rhode Island surpassed its employment goals this year and for the first time since the creation of the program in 1998 was eligible to apply for the grant, she said. The department had set specific goals for dislocated workers, adult workers and youth, Hart said.

Workers categorized as “dislocated” have lost their most recent employment position, while the adult workers category encompasses adults without previous work experience for reasons including a lack of language proficiency or literacy training, she said. The Rhode Island Department of Labor measured how many workers in each category were able to find employment, how many of those workers retained prior jobs and workers’ average earnings.

The state exceeded its targets for dislocated workers and adult workers entering the workforce by at least 10 percent in each category, Hart said. The 76.3 percent of the department’s dislocated worker clients that landed a job exceeded the state’s goal by 13 percent, and the 69 percent of adult workers that found employment exceeded the goal by 10 percent.

Funds allocated to the state labor department will be used to buy analytic software, which will allow the department to assess which of the current workforce development programs are most effective, Hart said. “We are going to be investing in training for some of our career staff so they understand how to use the new software.”

The Rhode Island Department of Education also met its annual goals, making the department eligible for the grant funding.

Over the last three years, the state department has adopted an incentive-based system in which students who meet their program completion goals receive more financial aid, said Elliot Krieger spokesman for the department, adding that this initiative may have contributed to the state’s success this year.

The department will use the grant money to purchase technology for adult education, Krieger said.

“Students preparing for the GED need some technology skills since the new version of that test will be administered electronically,” he said, adding that software, hardware and training will be purchased once the department has evaluated what is needed.

The success of education — especially adult education — and development of the labor force go hand-in-hand, Hart said, adding that many adult workers are not prepared to work until they have completed additional education.

“When you know that you have an economy that’s lagging behind the national employment numbers, it is critical that you focus on workforce development,” she added. “These results show that our work is paying off.”

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