Developing Stronger Pathways to Food and Agriculture Careers in Rhode Island
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29 July 2020
Rhode Island food industry jobs
Photo: Rhode Island Food Policy Council

Federal data shows that demand for food industry cluster jobs is growing in Rhode Island. It increased from 56,959 jobs in 2002 to 69,357 jobs in 2017, across food supply chains from agricultural production through processing, distribution, marketing, and sales. Jobs in non-food plant-based industries, like nursery production and landscape management, comprise an additional 15,000 or more jobs in the state. KK&P has worked extensively with The Rhode Island Nursery and Landscape Association (RINLA) and the Rhode Island Food Policy Council (RIFPC) to grow responsive workforce programs to meet industry needs while catalyzing career opportunities in these allied industries— and a new groundbreaking initiative will help. 

In June, the University of Rhode Island and Community College of Rhode Island announced the launch of collaborative work with industry leaders, convened by RINLA and the RIFPC, to develop new courses, professional certifications, and a two-year Associate’s degree program focused on agriculture, food systems, and plant-based industries. 

The Agricultural Workforce Development Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture has provided support to the initiative with a three year grant. 

KK&P has provided research, facilitation, and program design services as this ambitious multi-institution initiative has sought to enhance relevant offerings and create well-marked pathways between high school, community college, experiential learning opportunities, and relevant four-year degree programs in the state. 

Rhode Island food industry jobs
Photo: Rhode Island Nursery and Landscape Association

“This partnership’s goal is to help to provide students with the skills to be a part of the solution for some of the greatest challenges facing our communities – from a changing environment to food insecurity,” said RINLA Executive Director Shannon Brawley. “Our collective industries offer high demand, meaningful professional occupations with a living wage. We are thrilled to be the lead partner of this innovative education and training collaboration.”

KK&P’s past work with RINLA and RIFPC set the foundation for this initiative. Over the past three years, KK&P has supported RINLA in developing a first in the nation multi-employer Registered Apprenticeship program serving plant-based industries.  In the planning phase of the project, KK&P analyzed government data to identify workforce needs for the present and foreseeable future, created a career pathways map and program design outline, as well as a five-year comprehensive plan for the program’s growth — not just for the Registered Apprenticeship initiative but the ecosystem of contexts and supports that will ensure it succeeds for apprentices and employers. The creation of industry-driven higher education programs and credentials, such as the Associate’s degree now in development, are a critical piece of this ecosystem.

Three years in, nearly 30 business leaders and their staff participate in this “earn while you learn” model that member businesses can use to train, grow, and retain the workforce. Participating businesses represent the spectrum from small independent to large multi-national companies across diverse sectors of the industry.

KK&P also investigated food industry cluster growth in Rhode Island through the lens of workforce issues and identified gaps, including recruitment, retention, and training. Beginning in the fall of 2019, those workforce findings were translated into solutions as part of Real Food Jobs RI, a new program of the RIFPC in support of Rhode Island food businesses and workers, with investment from the state’s Department of Labor and Training.  

This is not the first time KK&P has worked on an initiative of this caliber.  KK&P worked with Bronx-based Hostos Community College in 2013-14 to develop the nation’s first interdisciplinary Associate’s degree program in food studies, mapping out then-future workforce demand for a range of industries and sub-industries across food supply chains and food systems. KK&P executed the research strategy and scoped the “business case” for operating the curriculum. It also found the connections and other synergies within the college, such as complementary existing programs and local and national entities that would provide opportunities to graduating students.

The program, which went live two years after the initial phase of work was completed, was designed to prepare students to grow professional careers in food; enable them to bring increased food knowledge into other industries, such as healthcare and business, where it would enrich professional opportunities; and empower them to lead positive food-focused change in their communities. The latter aligned with the college’s strong civil rights and social justice mission.

KK&P, along with our clients and partners in this work, hope that this new initiative will create and highlight pathways into meaningful jobs and careers in food and other plant-based industries, cultivating the people who will imagine, design and build a more resilient Rhode Island.