While an estimated 600 new defense-related jobs is expected to be created in Rhode Island during the next year, a clear skills gap exists in the state for these positions, according to a new study.
The Skills Gap Study, conducted for the Southeastern New England Defense Industry Alliance Defense Industry Partnership, found the state lacks professionals skilled in four categories: engineering, technicians, production, and business administration. The study found the top skills gap for Rhode Island’s defense sector are technical writing; experience with shipboard environments and unique defense systems; and customer communication/collaboration.
“The study points out that we need to do more to educate and prepare workers with the skills that the industry is looking for,” said Rick Brooks, Executive Director of the Governor’s Workforce Board.
The top five occupations that will see the highest growth in Rhode Island’s defense sector are Software Developers, Applications; Technical Writers; Information Security Analysts, Web Developers, and Computer Network Architects; Network and Computer Systems Administrators; and Software Developers, Systems Software. The study suggests colleges offer more programs to help students compete in the defense sector, including expanding course offerings in engineering and providing internships. The study also recommended increased professional development for current employees in the defense industry, as well as more support for veterans.
The study found shifting priorities for the Rhode Island defense industry due to the Pentagon’s shift in priorities and budgets. Half of Rhode Island defense businesses expect to see growth, while 35 percent expect to see no growth or growth not exceeding inflation. Fifteen percent are facing a probable decline in their defense sales and are seeking new markets.
The Rhode Island defense industry is one of the most important economic sectors in the state. It employs 16,000 people, including 6,000 who work in the private sector, representing $1.75 billion each year, according to the 2009 RI Defense Industry Economic Study. Annual wages for defense workers in the state average $67,000 a year, well above the state average.