State announces corporate partners for Woonsocket-based job training center

State announces corporate partners for Woonsocket-based job training center

Gov. Gina Raimondo, center, talks with Sokeara Sanford, left and Jaleen Asevedo, both members of the Skills for Rhode Island’s Future internship program, following the announcement of a new job training center at Woonsocket City Hall on Tuesday. (Breeze photo by Lauren Clem)

WOONSOCKET – State and local officials announced the corporate partners for the Northern Rhode Island Higher Education Center, a state-sponsored job training center to be located in Woonsocket, during a press conference at City Hall on Tuesday.

CVS Health, Amica, Fidelity and AAA Northeast will all use the new center to provide job training and education for new employees, partnerships local and state official anticipate will bring economic revitalization and provide a greater range of opportunities for young workers in the Blackstone Valley.

“Not everybody is going to go to college and frankly, not everybody should go to college, especially not at the prices colleges charge today,” Gov. Gina Raimondo said at the announcement. “The truth is this area, they’ve been the hardest hit by these economic changes.”

The Northern Rhode Island Education Center, first announced during the governor’s “State of the State” address in January, will be a $4 million education hub modeled after the Westerly Higher Education Center, a public-private partnership opened in January 2017. The Westerly Center hosts classes offered by CCRI, Rhode Island College, the University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island School of Design and Roger Williams University and provides training space to companies such as Electric Boat. According to state officials, the Westerly center trained or provided classes to 1,100 people in its inaugural year.

According to company representatives present at the announcement, the Woonsocket center will offer an initial focus on high-demand industries, including IT, cybersecurity, healthcare and finance. Amica plans to develop training programs in computer information systems, while Fidelity will launch a new partnership with Bryant University and AAA Northeast will offer training in data analytics and bilingual support for its call center.

CVS Health plans to use the space to train employees for both its corporate headquarters and store locations, according to Rick Laferriere, lead manager of workforce initiatives at CVS Health. The company has already begun working with CCRI to develop a pharmacy tech training program and AccessPoint RI to develop a customer service training program for people with disabilities, both programs he anticipates will move to the new center once it opens.

“Once the building is ready, we won’t be starting from scratch. We’ll hit the ground running,” he said.

Asked why Woonsocket was chosen as the location of the new center, Raimondo told The Breeze the city’s proximity to several corporate sites, as well as advocacy by local officials, accounted for the decision.

“Not everybody has a car, so we wanted a location near the companies where these people are going to be getting jobs,” she said.

City officials at the announcement also praised the choice of location, saying the new center will be an important step forward for residents of a city that was hit hard by the economic crisis.

“The Northern Rhode Island Higher Education Center will give students of all ages and their families hope and a sense of pride and purpose,” said Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt.

State officials did not announce the exact location of the new center on Tuesday, but Amy Grzybowski, executive director of the Westerly center as well as the new Woonsocket center, said state agencies are assessing site suitability at several locations.

“At this point, we’re reviewing several sites to see what the costs would be for construction,” she said.

The new center, she said, will likely not open for a year or more. In the meantime, the Westerly center is continuing to expand its programs and local partnerships, including a new program with Electric Boat designed to train high school students in maritime sheet metal work.

“It has certainly sparked economic revitalization in the community,” she said.