Jewelers, RIC combine to train workers for technology

Like most industries, jewelry manufacturing is focusing more and more on technology and, just as important, the workers skilled enough to operate high tech equipment.

It was with that in mind that Rhode Island College and the Manufacturing Jewelers & Suppliers of America (MJSA) partnered to create an educational resource to train people on the latest equipment relevant to the jewelry industry.

Through the Rhode Island College Educational Partnership employees of area jewelry manufacturers as well as RIC students can learn new skills, ranging from casting to electroplating.

”Southern New England has the highest concentration of jewelry manufacturers in the country and we don’t have any entry level courses on the trade. Most employees get training on the floor,” said David Doll, program director for MJSA. “We are basically creating a career ladder for those who wish to stay in the industry.”

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The effort has received public funds from the Human Resource Investment Council and Rhode Island’s Economic Policy Council. The business community also stepped up with 14 companies making $45,000 worth of donations in the form of equipment, which will be housed at RIC.

Doll said the benefits of the program are expected to be twofold. One goal is to complement the existing fine arts program at RIC, which has a focus on jewelry design. The second is on the jewelry industry, which can enroll employees in seminar-like courses to learn how to operate new machines. It’s also a chance for companies to use equipment that they are considering purchasing.

The equipment will be used during the day by RIC students and at night by employees of local manufacturers. The cost of the program for companies has not been set.

Students at RIC will start using the equipment as early as this spring, while the industrial use of the equipment is not expected to begin fully until the fall.

”There really hasn’t been a place for jewelry manufacturers to keep up with technology until now,” Doll said.

Doll said it was important when setting up the program to find out what the local jewelry community saw as key issues. So a series of focus groups, including more than 50 people in the industry, were held to establish a curriculum. An advisory board is also being set up to establish a procedure for providing services to the industry.

Doll was quick to point that the training program that will be offered to businesses is not necessarily limited to jewelry makers.

”Some of the methods employed in jewelry are also used in other industries. Electroplating and mass finishing for instance are used in other fields,” he said.

Marguerite Brown, director of the Rhode Island College Foundation and RIC’s director of development, said the educational partnership spawned from a renewed connection between RIC and the MJSA.

”Our relationship goes back over a decade, but it wasn’t until two months ago that we started working more closely together again,” Brown said.

RIC and MJSA’s most important responsibility was fund-raising and attracting donations of equipment, a job that has initially gone quite well. MJSA not only received help from local membership, but nationally as well.

”I think many companies from outside of Rhode Island are excited because this could become a national model for training,” Brown said. “(Doll) has already received calls from the University of Michigan about this. We are at the beginning of something that could be huge.”

Brown said that RIC not only benefits by providing equipment to its students, but by fulfilling its underlining goal.

”Not to be lost, Rhode Island College is about opportunity and access to education. We have a continued mission of serving the community,” she said.

As part of the partnership, a school to career program will be kicked off at local high schools that is intended to spark interest in the trade. Doll said jewelry designers will go to the schools and talk to students in art programs about jewelry design.

”We encourage students to design their own jewelry. Ultimately, we will bring the students to RIC and have them cast the pieces on the equipment. It will give them a great taste for what this all about,” said Doll.

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