Whenever a new study is published, someone in the audience can be counted on to rise and criticize. “What? Another study?” they’ll object. “When is someone going to act on one of these studies?” The peremptory judgment is always “analysis paralysis.”

I’m an inveterate article-clipper, and while not completely without sympathy for the cliché-mongers, I have a whole file of these. So it was probably inevitable that the publication of 21st Century Workforce: Central Illinois would stir controversy.

There are a number of reasons we should take this study seriously. Its premise is that central Illinois at the outset of the 21st century faces significant challenges to its ability to attract, retain, and develop employees and the enterprises that require them. A key factor, the report says, is the emergence of the knowledge-based economy, which as we all know is affecting every job and will be increasingly influential as the century unfolds.

The central Illinois report is co-authored by Dr. Richard Judy, also an author of the national study Workforce 2020, which served as its model. Some of the national study’s controversial conclusions are mirrored in the local report, especially the statement that we may face a shortage of as many as 18,000 employees by later this decade.

Appearing as it has at a time of high and stubborn unemployment, this conclusion is sure to draw the attention of skeptics. The same objections were raised with respect to the national study. But the numbers in both reports are sound. For evidence, consider the new book Impending Crisis: Too Many Jobs, Too Few People. According to its authors, “The scarcity of talent that’s coming will make the late 1990s look like a practice session! It’s going to affect the cost and quality of services.” The book cites U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data that show by 2010 the national economy will face a projected shortage of 10,033,000 workers, more than twice that of the year 2000, when the Bureau reported a deficit of 4,731,000.

Troubling numbers are just one reason 21st Century Workforce: Central Illinois is too important to leave on the shelf. The study also makes pointed observations about where our local infrastructure for employment, training, and economic development falls short. Yet I’m convinced there’s also reason to think that not only have we in central Illinois recognized the challenges, we’re already hard at work overcoming them.

Autumn brings to our offices here at Central Illinois Business Publishers the task of assembling a new edition of Peoria Progress Plays, a publication that markets central Illinois. Researching our new edition, I’ve been impressed to learn how much is already being accomplished on issues identified in the 21st Century Workforce study.

Our most serious workforce challenge is preparing young people to tackle the new knowledge-based economy. While resources for higher education in central Illinois are a source of pride, K-12 education shows worrisome trends, but we’ve discovered many reasons to believe the area’s education problems are being addressed. It’s too soon to judge the results of programs, such as career-oriented academies at the high schools, attention to basic skills and test performance, and special environments for students at risk of dropping out of school, but a massive effort is clearly under way.

Here’s another example of how we’re already working on 21st Century Workforce issues: the report says local efforts at economic development, while better than in the past, are still fragmented. Central Illinois’ business community has been out front here, actively integrating the region’s resources for greater impact in efforts like the Heartland Partnership, created to increase sharing and coordination among the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Development Council for Central Illinois, and several other business development organizations.

And then there’s the organization that commissioned the report—The Central Illinois Workforce Board, established by local governments to create a unified employment system out of the federal, state, and local programs present in our community. The Workforce Board is precisely the kind of collaborative body the study recommends.

When you combine efforts like these with the success of riverfront development and enhancement of community cultural resources, central Illinois appears to be on the right path. 21st Century Workforce: Central Illinois was designed to mobilize the community to address some serious challenges. And that’s exactly what we’re doing. 

Analysis paralysis? It’s not about to happen here.

P.S. You can find out more about the study at www.workforcenetwork.com. Click on the link for 21st Century Workforce: Central Illinois. IBI