What is the most important resource in any economy? People.
A highly educated and experienced workforce that possesses the knowledge and skills required to perform specialized tasks and respond to economic opportunities will result in greater productivity for local businesses. A strong workforce is also the key resource in attracting new businesses to a region. Therefore, it is no surprise that our economy is directly influenced by the level of education of the workforce.
In order for the Greater Peoria region to compete in a global economy and with regional competitors, the workforce of tomorrow must be critical thinkers, problem solvers and effective communicators. Within Greater Peoria, 90 percent of the population has a high school diploma or higher, with 26 percent of the population attaining a bachelor’s degree or higher. While this number falls a hair short of the state and national averages, enrollment rates of local colleges indicate a future increase to this number.
We have seen much of our local workforce go back to school to retrain in different areas, retain more degrees, and overall, enhance their levels of education. Area colleges and technical schools in the region have seen steady increases in enrollment, which demonstrates that people are updating their skillsets in order to be more competitive in the job search and more attractive to potential employers.
According to Rebecca Ryan of Next Generation Consulting, a Wisconsin- based market research firm, “For every one percent increase in the number of residents with a bachelor’s degree, there is a $763 increase in regional per capita income.” As the current labor pool ages, it is crucial that the next generation of job applicants achieves and attains higher levels of education.
In Greater Peoria, there are a variety of programs and higher education institutions that provide foundations for the future success of tomorrow’s workers. Bradley University, founded in 1897, enrolls approximately 6,000 students and offers more than 100 programs of study. Illinois Central College serves more than 13,000 students in the Peoria region and partners with numerous local employers to prepare students with the skills they need to succeed in the workforce. Eureka College and Midstate College are other institutions with strong focuses on leadership and professional training.
The University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria is part of one of the nation’s largest medical schools, offering graduate education and residency training, in addition to being a center for research and development. At the end of last year, the 24,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art cancer research facility opened on its campus, which will not only further cancer research, but enhance the college’s ability to attract and recruit new talent. Plans for OSF’s new Jump Trading Simulation and Conference Education Center are also in motion. This facility will be used to train future medical professionals throughout the community and ultimately bring more talented medical professionals to the area.
The Economic Development Council for Central Illinois is also doing its part in providing opportunities to develop the future workforce. For three years, the EDC’s Specialized Manufacturing Strategy Group has held the “Discover Manufacturing” expo, at which manufacturers, workforce development professionals, employment agencies and educators provide students with the resources necessary to begin further training in one of our region’s biggest industries.
Another catalyst in improving the educational attainment of our citizens is Peoria Promise, a scholarship program that provides eligible City of Peoria students with 64 credit hours to be used over a three-year period at Illinois Central College. What is especially promising about this is the fact that 70 percent of students that graduate from ICC stay in the area. Having already served over 800 students, Peoria Promise has established itself as one of the pipelines to providing the skilled workforce the resources necessary to serve our community and improve the economy.
These are just some of the ways we can improve and grow our workforce. With additional opportunities for higher education and specialized training, we can enhance the skillsets and knowledge of the regional workforce, attract new businesses, and be a more competitive and attractive community overall. iBi