In October, the Central Illinois Workforce Board held its 2006 Workforce Forum, where it unveiled its Talent Force 21: State of the Workforce Report. The report included the Board’s recommendations to Congressman Ray LaHood on closing the education skills gap that many young people experience as they seek to transition from high school into higher education or the workplace. Congressman LaHood had expressed concern that too few young people were developing the necessary skills to take advantage of the growing number of well-paying technical jobs emerging in Central Illinois, and as a result, the Central Illinois Workforce Board was asked to examine the issue and develop recommendations that would begin to address the problem.
To that end, the Board created the Education Skills Task Force, made up of leaders from business, labor, education, economic development, and community organizations. The Task Force reviewed research on regional, national, and global trends in economics and education; examined participation and the availability of local career and technical education programs; and explored several regional models of high school and community collegebased programs. After much deliberation, the Board approved one long-term and five short-term recommendations. The short-term recommendations include:
Foster a sense of urgency by helping the community understand the economic challenges we face. We must raise community awareness regarding the need for advanced education preparation for the 21st century knowledge economy. As massive numbers of baby boomers retire and our regional economy shifts from a low-skilled manufacturing base to a greater dependence on high-skilled technicians and professionals, increasing the numbers of educated individuals with technical skills will be essential.
Champion dramatic improvements in career and technical education, from grades Pre-K to 8. Young people and their parents must be aware of the increasing educational requirements to succeed in the new economy. Schools must begin to develop integrated curriculum models which include career information at all grade levels. Industry-sponsored career expos can introduce students to future careers, while teachers should have more internship opportunities in the private sector.
Significantly increase business participation. Business can help schools identify the skills needed for young people to be successful in today’s workplace. They can also assist young people in making better connections with the relevance of academic subject matter by offering summer co-op and internship opportunities.
Increase student participation in career and technical education programs. While there is an increasing need for career and technical education programs, some high school and community college programs face underenrollment. Increased awareness and outreach to students and parents is essential. Local school districts must be given greater flexibility to find innovative ways to partner and share program infrastructure.
Support on-going, creative funding initiatives, particularly in career and technical education. Innovative public/private partnerships and alternative funding and resource possibilities must be explored. IBI