30 Aug 2021
Woonsocket Education Center
Five days a week Oscar Prosper left his Pawtucket home and drove an hour to the Westerly Education Center. When I-95 was busy, the commute took longer than 60 minutes. At the end of the day, he left South County and headed back to Pawtucket, hoping the traffic would be lighter than the morning.
“It was a long drive each day,” said Prosper.
Along with the long commute came additional challenges.
“I had to quit one job and reduce my hours at another to fit everything in,” said Prosper.
The time and sacrifices he made proved to be worth it.
Prosper, a native of Liberia, put the skills he learned in a process technology course at the Westerly Education Center to good use. He was recently hired as a chemical compounder at Denison Pharmaceuticals in Lincoln.
“It was a long drive every day to Westerly, but it was an amazing opportunity and a good program,” said Prosper.
Soon those living in northern Rhode Island will not have to commute to Westerly for courses. A new job training and post-secondary education center similar to the Westerly Education Center will make its home in northern Rhode Island. Located on Main Street in downtown Woonsocket, the 14,000-square-foot Higher Education Center in Northern Rhode Island is set to open in early 2022.
Modeled after the successful Westerly Education Center, the workforce development center will provide job training and post-secondary educational opportunities in the northern part of the state. The facility will offer skills training and serve as a career pathway for jobs in such in-demand fields as IT, data, security, healthcare and more.
With support from the Papitto Opportunity Connection, the new state-run education center will address the needs of those living in communities with some of the largest unemployment rates in Rhode Island – Woonsocket, Pawtucket, and Central Falls.
“We know that there are equity gaps. We know we are not serving enough people of color. With the support from the Papitto Opportunity Connection we will be intentionally recruiting people into our programs and work to place them in jobs,” said Amy Grzybowski, executive director of the Westerly Education Center. “The public-private collaboration is designed to bring together higher education, business, industry, and community partners to improve regional access to post-secondary credits and certifications and provide high-quality educational programs to meet projected workforce growth in the region.”
Easy Access To Opportunities
“The support we have received from POC will give students an opportunity to build a brighter future for themselves and their families,” said Grzybowski. “Because over 90 percent of new jobs require post-secondary education in the form of degrees, certifications or industry-recognized credentials, it’s imperative that the state help all Rhode Islanders have easy access and the opportunity to attain those requirements.”
Prosper is an advocate of the center and what it will mean to the BIPOC communities in northern Rhode Island.
“I am telling all my friends that live in Pawtucket that this is an amazing opportunity,” said Prosper. “They don’t have to drive far to Westerly (to take the courses) like I did. They can go right to Woonsocket. I am telling everyone I know to go there.”
The Woonsocket-based facility will include multi-use space, classrooms, two conference rooms and a mock CVS store. As it has done successfully in Westerly, the Woonsocket- based center will partner with state’s public colleges, including CCRI, Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island to offer curriculum and training. The workforce programs will address the needs of working adults and will be offered at times designed to accommodate busy schedules.
The Westerly facility has partnered with Electric Boat, which has created a curriculum based on the skills needed for its workforce. Since the Westerly Education Center opened its doors four years ago, it has sent 6,000 employees to EB. Similar programs and partnerships are expected to be created in Woonsocket with employers in northern Rhode Island, including CVS, Fidelity, and AAA of Southeastern New England. Grybowski expects 500 to enroll at the Woonsocket center in the initial year.
“We create a pathway for success. We put people to work. We are intentional about the programs we offer,” said Grybowksi. “We provide an opportunity to people to work together towards post-secondary education and once they have completed, they have access to employers. At the end of the day, we want to put people to work. That’s our goal.”