Our regional workforce has been drastically affected by the recent economic downturn, but instead of focusing on the past, we must start to look forward. According to Workforce Network, the future workforce of the Peoria Metro is in trouble. Research shows that over the next three decades, we are going to see a shortage of nearly 30 million people in the country’s workforce.

There are several factors that come into play, including a lower growth rate in the United States, retirement of the baby boomers, and a general shortage of skilled workers. I think, perhaps the most stunning reason for this projected shortage is the lagging educational achievement of the U.S. Unfortunately, we may not be able to compete tomorrow because our students are not making the grade today, and without a solid and educated workforce to handle the jobs in our community, we will not be sustainable.

Here’s an interesting point—the youth of today will likely have seven careers in four industries, one of which hasn’t even been invented yet. That is something that many of us can’t grasp. If some of the industries they will work in haven’t been invented yet, how do we prepare our future workers? We do it by training them now to be skilled in the industries that are forecasted to grow.

Manufacturing took the biggest hit in this recession, but it is currently, and will remain, a top industry of this region. But even this core industry is changing. In the next decade or two, it won’t be the type of manufacturing your father or grandfather did. The career path of the coming decades will have a much heavier focus on technology, and careers will require higher-skilled workers and lifelong learning.

Technology is going to be the key to this region’s future. Just consider the amount of technological advancements being made right now. At the Peoria NEXT Innovation Center, there is a wide range of high-tech tenants in the biotechnology, energy, agriculture, renewable fuels, medical device, software, robotics and engineering industries. Caterpillar, the USDA Ag Lab and our regional hospitals are all focused on technology. Along with technology, the hottest industries in this region are going to be healthcare and logistics. We have added over 50,000 new jobs since the 1980s in a broad spectrum of industries, and by 2013 we will have approximately 200,000 jobs in this region.

We must remain aware of how industries in the region are changing, look ahead to the jobs of tomorrow, and begin to train workers for those jobs today. By focusing on the training and development of our youth and current workforce, we can ensure sustainability for tomorrow. It is essential for us to work together to make changes that will positively affect our region. We saw the benefits of collaboration on the Build the Block project and the Peoria Charter School Initiative. Let’s keep up the spirit of collaboration that this region is known for, and continue growing our region. iBi