The consolidation of central Illinois’ two workforce agencies will improve collaboration, reduce costs and ultimately benefit the region.

Regional initiatives and collaborations involving economic development groups, community colleges, community-based organizations and local workforce investment agencies are taking place across the country. One key component of this effort is improving the workforce in our region.

For the past 30 years, Workforce Network and Career Link have been serving low-income youth and adults, as well as dislocated (laid-off) workers in the central Illinois area. Workforce Network has supported Peoria, Marshall, Stark and Woodford counties, while Career Link has served Tazewell, McLean, Fulton and Mason counties. Recently, approval was granted by the governor, as requested by the chief elected officials of each of the eight counties, to merge the two agencies under the management and direction of Career Link.

A Regional Effort
The consolidation of these workforce agencies reduces the costs for administering the programs and streamlines services, thus improving upon the workforce efforts and quality of life throughout central Illinois. The regional workforce efforts of Peoria, East Peoria, Pekin, Bloomington and Normal, as well as the rural towns of Stark, Marshall, Woodford, Mason and Fulton counties stand to benefit greatly from a unified workforce team that can act quickly to address workforce needs and concerns.

As a member of the Focus Forward Workforce Alliance team and other EDCs throughout central Illinois, Career Link looks forward to working with our partner agencies and stakeholders to address the workforce needs and concerns that are common across the board in our eight-county consortium: decreasing unemployment and underemployment, increasing the skill level of the workforce, and providing innovative approaches in training for high-demand occupations across priority industry sectors.

In July 2014, President Obama signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act into law. The intent of this act is to improve and build upon proven practices such as sector strategies, career pathways, regional economic approaches and work-based learning. As a workforce investment agency, our goal has always been to provide opportunities in education, training and support services to individuals, particularly to those with barriers to employment. The assessment, testing and career research services provided to individuals by our case managers promote training in high-demand occupations. The results are increased economic self-sufficiency, employment retention, reduced welfare dependency and decreased unemployment. The same goals exist today, but different collaborative strategies need to be taken to increase the results.

Enhanced Partnerships Underway
One key strategy is an increased and enhanced partnership between workforce agencies and businesses large and small. Programs and relationships need to be developed and promoted to provide work-based learning strategies such as incumbent worker training, on-the-job training and customized training, as well as registered apprenticeships. As a result of the last recession, a large part of our workforce today is underemployed. Unemployment may be down, but wages are low. Many individuals seeking higher pay lack the necessary skills to secure a better-paying, high-demand occupation. On the other hand, employers are finding it increasingly difficult to employ workers who possess the skills they require. One major concern that needs to be addressed is the lack of soft skills: showing up on time, dressing appropriately, and on-the-job behavior, to name a few.

At present, our plate is full with transitioning consolidation efforts and the implementation plans for WIOA, which will be ongoing over the next year or two. We now have offices in each of the eight counties. Regional partners are discussing and implementing programs that address both soft-skill and hard-skill needs as we speak. It is our hope, through collaboration with businesses, economic development groups, high schools, colleges, community-based organizations and other partnering agencies, that we can offer program assistance to further strengthen central Illinois’ resolve to attain its workforce goals. iBi