There are a number of challenges facing central Illinois as we seek to compete in a 21st century knowledge economy. The concept of workforce development has recently emerged as a major factor impacting the ability of a business or community to prosper in the new economy. Workforce development involves three principles: workforce quantity, workforce quality, and workforce match.
Workforce quantity addresses the issue of ensuring an adequate supply of workers to meet the needs of businesses and employers. This issue is important because demographic projections for our country, state, and local region indicate a relatively flat population growth rate for the foreseeable future. Other demographic projections reflect substantial numbers of working age adults leaving the labor force due to retirements of the “baby boom” generation over the next five to 20 years.
Additional issues impacting workforce quantity include the loss of the skills and talent of individuals unemployed or underemployed for a variety of reasons. These reasons include individuals with disabilities, high school drop-outs, or high school graduates who lack the basic skills to compete in a knowledge economy.
The issue of workforce quantity may have a negative impact on economic development efforts because businesses need an adequate supply of qualified workers to maintain or expand their business operations. One of the top criteria used by newly relocating businesses is an adequate supply of potential workers. Central Illinois will have some serious challenges over the next decade as the above-mentioned forces combine to produce a shortfall of the available workforce by some 18,000 workers.
To counteract the negative impact of worker shortages, central Illinois will have to develop several strategies. These include attracting new talent to the region, improving the skills and abilities of the existing workforce, developing better school-to-work transitions for high school and college students, lowering the drop-out rate of area high schools, and expanding the available workforce pool by developing the potential of unemployed individuals.
Each of these factors impacting the quantity of the available workforce may have a negative impact on our ability to grow and prosper economically. These factors are also linked to other major institutions responsible for education, governance, and the quality of life. Addressing these challenges will require major effort on behalf of the entire region because economies are regional in nature and aren’t confined to political boundaries. If our regional economy suffers, it will impact every community in the region. In recognition of these challenges, visionary leaders throughout the region are coming together in economic development, government, and education to address the factors impacting workforce quantity. A variety of initiatives are underway that will require the committed efforts and resources of individuals, organizations, and communities for many years to come. The future of our regional economic prosperity will depend on the success of these efforts. IBI