In October, the Central Illinois Workforce Board hosted its Talent Force 21 Summit. The summit was an opportunity to highlight the progress of central Illinois in addressing the challenges facing our area as we seek to compete in a 21st century knowledge economy. The summit showcased the 10 Talent Force 21 challenges, two dozen challenge champions, and about 200 community leaders from 80 organizations.
One of the highlights of the summit was the presentation of the 2004 State of the Workforce Report, which reflected the activities and findings of the 10 challenge groups and identified benchmarks for the 10 challenges. A sample of the benchmarks for some of the challenges are summarized below:
- Make central Illinois a "learning community." Between 1990 and 2000, central Illinois generally kept pace with the average gains within the state for adults aged 25 and older who received a high school diploma; however, compared to competitor MSAs in the Midwest, central Illinois ranks slightly below the median in the population 25 and older with Bachelors, graduate, or professional degrees.
- Reduce dropout rates and raise graduation rates in high schools. The central Illinois area has an average high school graduation rate of about 88.7 percent, compared to 89.7 percent for the state. While the graduation rates have remained steady over the last three years, a continued challenge is to engage high school students to think about higher education and lifelong career development.
- Improve educational outcomes of K-12 education. About 40 percent of central Illinois 11th grade students fail to meet standards on the Prairie State Achievement Exam in the areas of reading, math, writing, science, and social studies. Significant numbers of our young people may lack the necessary skills to compete for the jobs of the future.
- Ensure the proper mix of education, training, and support services are available to all members of the community. Our regional economy is transitioning from a manufacturing base to a knowledge/services base. Effective transitions from high school to post-high school education and ongoing career development will be essential. Currently, 70.2 percent of central Illinois' population aged 18 to 24 isn't enrolled in a college, university, or graduate school.
- Work with employers/ trainers to make training and retraining the nation's best. In recent surveys, central Illinois employers identified technical/computer skills, customer service, and teamwork as the most common deficiencies in newly hired employees. Deficiencies among current staff include innovation/problem solving, project management/organizational skills, supervisory/ management skills, and ability to work in a team environment.
- Focus on the recruitment and retention of a skilled workforce pool. The growth of the central Illinois workforce has lagged the state and nation. Currently, the size of the workforce is about the same as it was in the mid-1990s. In this decade, the population growth is projected about 2 percent. To stay economically competitive, the area will have to develop strategies to attract and retain educated and skilled workers.
- Reduce barriers to workforce participation for all who want to work. With the aging of the workforce, low projected population growth rates, and projected potential labor shortages, central Illinois employers will have to increase worker productivity, maximize worker participation rates, and expand the potential pool of workers from which to choose. Recruitment of underrepresented populations and non-traditional workers such as the disabled, stay-at-home parents, retired military, older workers, and ex-offenders will be essential to addressing potential worker shortages. IBI