Scott Jensen

Director, Department of Labor & Training
State of Rhode Island

Award Profile

Courageous Thinking and Action
Scott Jensen had a once in a lifetime opportunity. Just-elected Governor Gina Raimondo wanted to transform workforce development, and was not interested in half measures. Scott had created innovative workforce programs before, but never on behalf of a leader as focused, and as ambitious, as Governor Raimondo. In other words, Scott was faced with the chance to actually do what he and others in the field had only talked about – fundamental reform of workforce development on a statewide scale.

The Governor saw the talents of the people of Rhode Island as the key to the state’s economic recovery, and whoever was going to be her Director of Labor and Training was going be accountable for delivering on her vision. Scott took the challenge. The result was Real Jobs RI, a workforce effort that ties a vast network of partners together to provide opportunity for talented Rhode Islanders, while giving the state’s great companies the employees they need to thrive. In the first two years of Real Jobs, thousands have better plugged their talents into the economy, and Scott is busy fine-tuning the national model that is humming in Rhode Island.

Vision & Innovation
When talking with business leaders Scott likes to joke by introducing his visit with an ironic twist on Ronald Reagan’s famous line. “Hi,” he says, “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” While it never fails to get a laugh, the joke betrays a serious promise. If government is going to help, it must actually work. We are all familiar with the impediments that bog down even the very best intentions: procurement rules, federal rules, a myriad of legitimate but many times contradictory interests can all conspire to nip progress when it buds. But Scott tapped a great team at DLT, and by working both hard and smart they tackle challenges one at a time and deliver, showing that government can add genuine value to the life of our community.

Inspiring Leadership
Anyone who has worked with Scott knows one thing for sure. The folks that surround him are more talented than he is. Just ask him. A good example are the unsung leaders in Unemployment Insurance’s call center. By important measures, a few years ago Rhode Island had the worst administered Unemployment Insurance program in the nation and the territories – “worse than Guam” (even though Guam doesn’t have UI). Today, by those same measures, Rhode Island ranks 4th best. Why? Because DLT leadership listened to the front line, unionized workers, and supported their ideas and good work.

Community Mindedness
No one does their job at DLT to make DLT succeed. Success is defined, and only defined, by whether the agency is adding value to our community, which it does in many ways. DLT makes sure fundamental rules of a just labor market are followed so a fair day’s work gets a fair day’s pay. The agency makes sure those on the job can count on workers compensation and Temporary Disability Insurance if they are injured, and Temporary Caregiver’s Insurance when they have child or must care for a loved one. DLT backstops families from job loss with Unemployment Insurance, and its Division of Workforce Development is there to lend a hand when Rhode Islanders are looking for a better opportunity. DLT and GWB grants support the work of hundreds of community organizations, who are able to enrich our state far more than a government agency could dream of on its own.

JA Mission Moment
I am fortunate to do lots of events. At one of them a young woman came up to me with a welded bouquet of red, fringed tulips she had made for Governor Raimondo. Yes, really and truly: red, welded fringe tulips made of solid steel! When I talked a bit with the artist, she said she was deciding whether to work at Electric Boat or go to CCRI (I suggested both), but she was more interested in finding the Governor than chatting with me.

But I did get to talk with her teacher. Turns out that this kid showed up at the welding CTE program, because she had no idea what else to do. He explained that when he first met her she had a hard time making eye contract. But unbeknownst to anyone, especially her, she was a great welder. She won welding awards – a genuine prodigy. This amazing young person turned out to be a welder in place that really needs welders. She is thrilled about her prospects.

On tough days I think of that young woman, beaming with the pride of well deserved accomplishment. She earned it, but lots of others – her parents, Governors,legislators, teachers, folks in the mail-room at DLT, many more – all helped place opportunity within her reach. She and thousands like her are why we do what we do. Because we have such a rare opportunity, we are fortunate indeed.