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A Publication of WTVP

A decade ago this September, the Central Illinois Workforce Board embarked upon a new initiative that was the first of its kind in the country. This initiative, subsequently known as Talent Force 21, began a process that examined the workforce, education and economic challenges to central Illinois in the 21st century. The Talent Force 21 initiative began with a research report entitled 21st Century Workforce: Central Illinois, which identified 10 challenges for central Illinois (including Peoria, Tazewell, Woodford, Marshall and Stark counties) that would impact our ability to compete in a global knowledge and innovation economy. These original challenges were:

  1. Make central Illinois a “learning community.” Motivate youth and adults alike to be flexible and to become ever more adept at acquiring new skills and knowledge.
  2. Reduce dropout rates and raise graduation rates in central Illinois.
  3. Improve educational outcomes of K-12 education with special emphasis on reading, communication, mathematics, reasoning, teamwork and customer service skills.
  4. Ensure the proper mix of education and training opportunities as well as top-quality career guidance is available and accessible to all students and residents of central Illinois.
  5. Work with employers and training providers to make central Illinois’ worker training system the nation’s most responsive and efficient.
  6. Focus on the recruitment and retention of a skilled workforce pool for central Illinois.
  7. Reduce barriers to workforce participation for all who want to work, irrespective of age, disadvantages or disabilities.
  8. Make central Illinois a highly attractive place to live and work for the types of human talent needed by the area’s economy and its businesses.
  9. Work together for the benefit of all in the region. Banish bureaucratic blinders. Get governments and institutions to collaborate, not compete.
  10. Understand the workforce needs of making “Peoria Next” a reality, and then exert every effort to help meet those needs. Do the same for other well-considered economic development initiatives that mature in the future.

After the report was released in 2002, the Workforce Board organized community leaders and stakeholders from about 80 organizations to develop strategies to address the 10 challenges. Since that time, the region has seen a number of positive changes that should be noted. However, there remain opportunities for continued development and improvement in the challenge areas. We will attempt to highlight several:

Make central Illinois a learning community; raise public awareness of the importance of education and continuous learning. This is probably our most significant long-term challenge because it speaks to creating a culture of lifelong learning in our community. There have been a number of promising developments from education, government, business leaders and news media over the last decade that reflect a growing awareness and concern indicative of a community dedicated to increasing the quality of its human capital. These include:

Reduce dropout rates and raise graduation rates. This is another long-term challenge that will require major paradigm shifts and systemic change in our educational processes. Nationally, about 70 percent of high school students graduate from our public schools; for African Americans and Hispanics, this figure drops to between 50 and 60 percent. Locally, we have fared a little better. In the 10-year span from 1998 to 2008 (the latest data available), central Illinois graduation rates improved slightly, from 80.4 to 82.8 percent. However, this figure still represents an annual talent loss of about 1,100 young people who cannot effectively compete in the new economy. This number over each decade represents about 11,000 fewer potential skilled workers, which means: 1) Fewer workers to replace the retiring baby-boomer generation, and 2) A further widening of the skills gap between the talent needed for the knowledge-based jobs in our economic growth sectors and the skill sets of the available workforce.

Improve educational outcomes of K-12 education. Academic progress in the Peoria MSA has seen some improvement over the last decade. According to the Illinois State Board of Education, our central Illinois 11th graders improved their science scores nearly 10 percentage points (from 50.3 percent in 2000-01 to 60 percent in 2009-10) on the Prairie State Achievement Exam. Math scores improved slightly from 56.2 to 57 percent, and reading scores dropped from 60.9 to 58 percent. Our continuing challenge, however, is that 60 percent is not a passing grade, and at least 40 percent of our high school students are not meeting basic competencies in reading, math and science. The good news, though, is that significant progress has been made over the last decade to put in place new models of teaching and learning that may have a long-term benefit for our community. These include:

Ensure a mix of education, training and support services are available to the community. Over the last decade, our community has also seen a number of changes in both our post-secondary and workforce development systems that have expanded access to education and workforce development services to individuals and businesses in central Illinois. Examples include:

• Illinois Central College’s expansion of its facilities, support services, and curricula:

• The Workforce Network system also expanded its facilities, programs, and services to respond to the economic downturn and build human capacity for projected economic growth sectors:

When the Workforce Board embarked upon its Talent Force 21 initiative in 2001, a new century of economic challenges was just unfolding for central Illinois. Our region has risen to those challenges with surprising creativity and resilience. However, in order to be globally competitive and meet the needs of our local economy, much remains to be done to develop our human capital. iBi

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