Childcare cited as workforce issue at annual conference

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — “Childcare is economic development” was one of the messages Thursday at the Economic Progress Institute’s annual policy and budget conference.

One of the speakers was Katiria Perez, a married mother of two who wanted to get a job to boost her family’s income.

“I decided to stay home because I couldn’t afford to go to work,” she told the conference in the Omni Providence Hotel. The cost of childcare would eat up any earnings from any low-skilled job for which she would have been qualified.

So she waited until her younger child went to pre-kindergarten, and then went back to school at the Genesis Center to become a medical assistant.

Now, she announced at the conference, she is poised to start a job next month at Lifespan.

“Childcare is a workforce issue in two ways,” said Shannon Carroll, executive director of the Genesis Center, which offers job-training programs.

Carroll said that providing childcare for those in job-training programs will give them the opportunity to gain skills for better employment. At the same time, there is a shortage of qualified childcare workers, so offering training in childcare can lead to better jobs for those trainees.

Keynote speaker Andy Van Kleunen, of the National Skills Coalition, also discussed proposals in Washington to require recipients of public benefits, such as food stamps and welfare, to work or lose their benefits.

“Work requirements are not workforce development,” Van Kleunen said.

He recited an old axiom: “The best anti-poverty program is a job.”

But he said it’s not that simple. It can’t be any job; it has to be a good job.

Or, better yet, a career.