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It used to be that many Rhode Island youth were able to save money for college or help their families make ends meet while gaining valuable work skills by finding after-school or summer jobs. But these days, those types of jobs are few and far between.

Many young workers have gained little work experience before attempting to enter the workforce as adults. Employers often report that young workers tend to lack the basic skills, professionalism and work ethic necessary to do a job well. We need to address this problem head-on at locally and at the state level and create pathways for young people to enter the workforce.

With recent increases in the minimum wage and an uncertain economy, employers have become more reluctant to hire young workers who lack on-the- job training. By creating more robust teen job training and apprenticeship programs with pathways to careers, enacting a teen minimum wage for after-school and summer jobs in certain fields, and establishing internship and mentoring programs, it could help young workers gain valuable experience and save money for college, while also giving local employers an incentive to hire young workers.

But the problem with a lack of employment opportunities in Rhode Island does not end with high school students. Even college graduates have trouble finding work. As a result, too many of Rhode Island’s brightest minds have to leave the state for better opportunities elsewhere.

Uncompetitive tax rates and a host of fees and redundant, confusing and job-killing regulations have prevented business from developing in our state and job growth has stalled.  We can prepare new generations for the future with innovation and funding to development programs and apprenticeships, but we need to fix our economic climate along with it.

As an educator, I believe in creating stronger partnerships between institutions of higher education and employers, incentivizing the creation and expansion of robust co-op and internship programs where students can be matched with established businesses that are looking to bring new people into the workforce. I will also work to create new mentoring programs where youth entering the workplace can learn from seniors who are leaving the field or have retired.

The classroom-to- careers program could also provide startup companies with a “feeder system” for talent that would provide students and recent grads with valuable on-the- job training and an opportunity to grow their careers with new, innovative companies. Companies of all sizes could be eligible for tax credits in exchange for their participation in the program, making Rhode Island a more attractive place to find new talent and expand their workforce. Participating students or recent grads could also be eligible for a state tax break to help them pay off student loans and living expenses early in their careers.

This is a win-win situation for young workers and businesses of all sizes in Rhode Island. I look forward to making this a top priority and working with officials and business leaders of all political stripes to make this happen to prepare new generations for careers that keep Rhode Island vibrant and plays to our natural advantages. I respectfully ask for your vote on Nov. 8 so that together we can improve the employment situation for our youth.

Rebecca Schiff
Candidate for District 74 State Representative