March 25, 2019

Whitehouse Unveils Bill to Train Next Generation of Manufacturing Workforce

Bipartisan legislation would provide targeted workforce training grants to small manufacturers

Pawtucket, RI – U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), a champion for Rhode Island’s textiles and composites industries, today unveiled a bipartisan proposal aimed at helping younger workers hit the ground running in manufacturing jobs that require highly specialized skills.  The Retain Innovation and Manufacturing Excellence Act would establish a pilot program to allow businesses to retain retiring employees long enough to train replacement workers – tackling a significant challenge for Rhode Island manufacturing companies. 

“Transferring specialized skills from one generation of workers to the next is a major challenge facing local manufacturers,” said Whitehouse.  “Rhode Island has a long history of manufacturing excellence dating back to the start of the Industrial Revolution here in Pawtucket.  Helping younger workers scale the learning curve will allow manufacturers to continue that tradition.”

Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) is also a sponsor of the Retain Innovation and Manufacturing Excellence Act. 

The Retain Innovation and Manufacturing Excellence Act, which will be introduced in the Senate later today, would establish a pilot program at the National Institute of Standards and Technology to allow regional Manufacturing Extension Partnerships (MEPs) to apply for targeted workforce training grants provided by the Department of Commerce.  The funding awarded to small manufacturers would be used to retain a departing employee for up to 90 days while they train a new employee on the unique functions of their job.  The bill would authorize up to $10 million to be used for the pilot program.

Rhode Island’s manufacturing workforce has gotten older in recent years, with one third of workers now over age 55.  As employees with decades of experience retire, their replacements often face a steep learning curve that hampers productivity.

The legislation was announced this morning at an event at North East Knitting, which manufactures high quality elastics and webbing.  Dozens of representatives of manufacturers were in attendance, as well as leaders of the Rhode Island Textile Innovation Network and the Composites Alliance of Rhode Island.  

“While there are a number of valuable training programs available to textile manufacturers, there are none that specialize in running a specific, complex piece of machinery,” said Michael M. Woody, CEO of Trans-Tex LLC and President of the Rhode Island Textile Innovation Network.  “Because most of us compete with low priced imports and work on close margins, it is a financial challenge for us to take a younger employee with potential and dedicate two people to operating a machine until the veteran worker trains the replacement.  Senator Whitehouse’s bill solves this problem by offsetting the training cost for textile manufacturers in Rhode Island and throughout the country.”

The Rhode Island Textile Innovation Network fosters collaboration among textile industry leaders, designers, academia, and government to make Rhode Island a leader in advanced textile manufacturing.  Created in late 2016 by Whitehouse and the URI Business Engagement Center, the Rhode Island Textile Innovation Network operates with planning grants received in late 2017 from Real Jobs RI and the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation through fiscal agent, Polaris MEP.

“Polaris MEP has already proven that MEP centers are well positioned to act as workforce intermediaries,” said Wendy J. Mackie, CEO of the Rhode Island Marine Trades Association and the Composites Alliance of Rhode Island.  “This bill will enhance the menu of program offerings MEP centers can provide to manufacturers to ensure they are successful through the generational workforce transition they are currently experiencing.”


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