Over the last year, there have been several reports produced by the state and local workforce boards that have benchmarked the need for workforce development. In December, the Illinois Workforce Investment Board published a draft version of its second annual report entitled "Measuring Progress: Benchmarking Workforce Development in Illinois." Within the last few months, the Central Illinois Workforce Development Board published its "2004 State of the Workforce Report."
These reports identified a number of benchmarks that reflect the challenges we have in developing the quality of our entrant and incumbent workers. Three benchmarks for entrant workers include the high school dropout rate, PSAE results, and the percentage of high school graduates transitioning to education and workforce training.
- High School Dropout Rate. Illinois managed to slightly reduce its overall dropout rate from 1992 to 2001 to about 6 percent. However, Illinois has about 10.2 percent of 16- to 19-year-olds not in school and without a diploma, compared to about 9.9 percent for the nation. More disturbing are the rates for minorities. African-American youth dropped out at the rate of 13.9 percent and Hispanics at the rate of 24.9 percent, compared to Caucasians at 5.8 percent.
- Prairie State Achievement Exam (PSAE) Results. The PSAE is given to all Illinois juniors. Results for 2002-2003 indicate that less than 60 percent of Illinois students "met standards." Unfortunately, the results for 37 central Illinois high schools didn't fare much better than the state as a whole. In addition, the central Illinois results haven't drastically changed over the last three years.
- Percent of High School Graduates Transitioning to Education and Workforce Training. Most of the jobs of the future will require some education and/or training beyond high school. Young people with advanced education and training will be much better prepared to meet these challenges. In 2004, Illinois ranked seventh out of the 10 largest competitor states, with 33 percent of its high school graduates transitioning to education or workforce training.
Incumbent workers are the current workforce. The above-mentioned reports identify at least three benchmarks that speak to the educational attainment and capacity of our workforce:
- Adult Literacy. Adults with low literacy skills are less able to advance in the workplace or to adapt to changes in technology and are much more likely to be poor and/or unemployed. There's been no measure of adult literacy in Illinois since the 1992 National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS). In the 1992 survey, 48 percent of adults tested at the "inadequate level" (functionally illiterate). The average scores for Illinois were slightly lower than other Midwest states and similar to nationwide scores.
- Educational Level of Working-Age Adults. This is an indicator of the general skill level of the workforce and the capacity and flexibility for continuous learning. Between 2000 and 2004, Illinois increased the percentage of the working age population with high school diplomas from 85.3 percent to 87 percent. This is slightly higher than the national average of about 84 percent. Similarly, Illinois increased the percent with four-year degrees and above from 27.1 percent to 27.7 percent during the same period. The national average for 2004 was more than 28 percent.
- Productivity Per Employee. Between 1991 and 2001, Illinois showed strong gains in productivity relative to national growth rates. However, central Illinois' productivity lagged behind the state.
As we begin a new year, we should be mindful of the fact that economic competitiveness lies in the quality of our current and future workforce. IBI