JWU graduates entering the Rhode Island workforce find thriving markets in the food service and hospitality sectors, strong partnerships on the technology front, and university and community leaders moving together to tackle the challenge of retaining a vibrant workforce. According to a report compiled by the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training, Rhode Island’s hospitality sector grew by 3,500 jobs —or 7.3 percent, much higher than the state’s overall job growth rate of 4.9 percent— between December 2002 and June 2007. The report anticipates a 17.9 percent job growth in the accommodation and food services sector from 2004 to 2014. Food venues and drinking establishments are expected to add 6,397 jobs, while 1,201 jobs will be created in the lodging industry. The Aug. 18, 2007 issue of the Wall Street Journal listed Providence among 10 world destinations named by the travel industry for future greatness —the only U.S. city on the list. In its June 2007 issue, Food & Wine magazine recognized Providence for its wealth of young culinary talent.
While the examples are encouraging, they only address the needs of some Johnson & Wales graduates. United States Census Bureau statistics from 1995 to 2000, rank Rhode Island 45th in the country in net migration rate of young, single and college-educated adults. Local leaders are moving in a myriad of directions to address the issue. In November 2007, the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce hired a consulting firm to study the city’s business climate and recommend ways to retain college graduates, encourage collaborations among businesses, hospitals and universities and support start-up companies. The results of the study are expected this March. In the meantime, the state’s educators are addressing retention issues identified in a Rhode Island Economic Policy Council 2004 report titled, “The Young and the Restless: How Providence Competes for Talent.” The Association of Independent Colleges & Universities of Rhode Island (AICU Rhode Island), a consortium of the state’s eight independent institutions of higher learning, with JWU Providence Campus President Irving Schneider, Ph.D. as executive committee chairman, has begun to identify partners for a knowledge retention summit, expected to take place later this year.
“The summit will identify action items, such as increased coordination of internships across the state, a Web portal for statewide internship activities, retention activities centered around recent graduates and young entrepreneurs and recruitment activities for currently enrolled students,” said Daniel Egan, president of AICU Rhode Island.
A similar effort involving JWU is targeting the technology field. Melissa L. Withers, director of communications and market development for Rhode Island Economic Development Corp. (RIEDC) has been working with professors from the School of Technology on RIEDC’s new RI Nexus program, which supports entrepreneurship in the IT and digital media sectors. RI Nexus’ goal is to transform the sectors’ organizations, individuals and initiatives into an interconnected statewide industry cluster. “RIEDC has a relationship with JWU that has steadily strengthened over the last few years,” says Withers. “The students are an important asset to our state and we are very interested in finding ways to keep that talent local after graduation.