In October, the Central Illinois Workforce Development Board unveiled its “Talent Force 21-2005 State of the Workforce Report.” The report outlines 10 challenges facing central Illinois as we seek to insure that we have an adequate supply of qualified workers in a 21st century knowledge-based global economy.
These 10 challenges analyze several factors that impact the economy and workforce of central Illinois: workforce quality, quantity, economic alignment of our human capital, and economic and community development priorities.
Workforce quality challenges include making central Illinois a learning community; reducing dropout rates and raising graduation rates; improving the educational outcomes of K-12 education; and ensuring the proper mix of education, training, and support services are available to all members of the community.
A quality education is the foundation for workforce skills and preparation, and additional challenges come to light when we examine the skill gap of our entrant workforce. Substantial numbers of young people in central Illinois aren’t completing high school; transitioning to post-high school education; or meeting basic standards in reading, math, writing, science, and social science. While our region is making some progress in these areas, substantial work remains to involve all segments of the community in the schools; increase investments in professional development for teachers; improve and integrate curricula; and raise expectations for student achievement.
Aligning our human capital to meet the current and emerging economy is also a key priority for our region. Currently, central Illinois is experiencing skill shortages in health care, engineering, advanced manufacturing, service industries, and education. Newly emerging growth sectors also include logistics and technology commercialization. Additionally, employers report growing skill deficits in the areas of teaming, communication, creativity, problem solving, and customer service skills. While our region is experiencing these skill shortages, thousands of individuals have been displaced from “yesterday’s jobs.” As a result, a major challenge for our region will be to retrain thousands of displaced workers, upgrade the skills of incumbent workers, and increase the skill sets of entrant workers.
Workforce quantity challenges include focusing on the recruitment and retention of a skilled workforce and reducing barriers to workforce participation. Unfortunately, population and workforce growth projections indicate workforce and skill shortages of several thousand workers for the foreseeable future. As a result, our region will have to develop strategies to recruit workers with advanced education and grow and retain entrant workers with skill sets in science and technical occupations. Other strategies include expanding our talent pool of underemployed populations—older, disabled, and dislocated workers.
The good news is key workforce, education, economic development, business, and labor leaders are aware of these challenges, and dozens of these visionary leaders and organizations in central Illinois are rolling up their sleeves to address them from a variety of perspectives. Addressing these challenges will take the collective will and resources of our entire community. IBI