A Publication of WTVP

There's been a growing recognition of the need for communities to produce adequate numbers of workers with the necessary talents and skills to meet the rapidly changing needs of the 21st century knowledge economy. Locally, the Central Illinois Workforce Board has led with research initiatives like 21st Century Workforce-Central Illinois, Talent Force 21, and the 2004 State of the Workforce Report. These initiatives have identified a number of economic, educational, workforce, and quality of life challenges for central Illinois. They've also received state and national recognition as groundbreaking efforts that have redefined the nature of workforce development at the local level.

Local workforce boards were created by the federal Workforce Investment Act of 1998. They've made significant progress over the last five years despite confusing signals and lukewarm support from state and federal government. Among the key challenges moving forward is a basic understanding of what local "workforce development" really is, as opposed to "job training."

Workforce development is a much bigger universe than job training. Workforce development deals with the quality, quantity, and match of the workforce. Inherent in its function is a close alignment with the education, economic development, and community development systems. Workforce development also deals with developing specific strategies to prepare different worker groups to meet the changing needs of business. Workforce development, for the foreseeable future, will involve strong leadership and partnerships within local communities. Since current funding is usually inadequate to meet needs, funds must be leveraged across multiple funding streams. There must also be a better integration of the dozens of existing federal and state programs to increase the effectiveness of the public investment.

Job training, on the other hand, deals with the process of training people for specific jobs or occupations. Job training programs have been a part of our nation's federal policy since the 1930s. Since then, the federal government has created a number of individual programs to meet the specific needs of different worker populations, usually no more than 5 to 7 percent of the total population. Unfortunately, these programs never addressed the needs of the whole workforce.

In addition, the nature of the legislative process produced a number of programs with different target populations, eligibility criteria, program goals, and outcomes. The programs also were administered by different agencies without the knowledge or coordination of any one entity at the local level. A recent count of job training programs at the federal level revealed more than 150 different programs. Within the State of Illinois, there also exist more than 60 programs administered by about 15 different state agencies.

As we cope with the challenges of the new knowledge economy, it's apparent that job training must be a subset of comprehensive national, state, and local workforce development systems. We must continue the development of these comprehensive workforce systems led by workforce boards and local elected officials. IBI