Looking to the future, initiatives are being promoted by Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo to help Rhode Islanders get the training and certification they need for 21st-century jobs.
For instance, the Real Jobs Rhode Island program was created to provide education and skills training for Rhode Island workers and to ensure that employers have a skilled workforce, while the Anchor Institution Tax Credit incentive program was established to reward businesses if they can recruit their suppliers and/or customers to relocate to Rhode Island.
In 2018 pharmaceutical manufacturer Amgen broke ground on a $200M next-generation biomanufacturing plant in West Greenwich. This new facility will create 150 new manufacturing jobs.
That’s good news, but is the pulse of manufacturing strong enough to be sustained in Rhode Island? In the 1980s more than 100,000 people were employed in the industry; today, more than 40,000 are employed, according to RIMA
. That’s a loss of more than 60,000 jobs within 40 years.
“Nonetheless, 40,000 people is still a significant chunk of the workforce for a state Rhode Island’s size,” Mello contends.
To secure the economic future of manufacturing, Rhode Island needs to train more white-collar workers to program and supervise the new machinery, Mello said. If those skills don’t come from the old guard, they’re going to come from kids who have grown up digital.
“Very young children, even kindergarten-age, already have technology skills,” he said. “They’re comfortable with technology and they’re getting prepared indirectly for the technical jobs of the future.”
“Ultimately, manufacturing will never die,” he said. “Every single consumer product you use had to be manufactured. Your coat was manufactured, your ink pen, your water bottle, your cell phone. I don’t see any reason why Rhode Island can’t have a vibrant manufacturing economy. The industrial revolution started in southeastern New England. There’s no reason it can’t be brought back.”