A Publication of WTVP

In recent articles, we’ve explored the many challenges of competing in a 21st century knowledge-based global economy. Unlike in past times, the ability to prosper and grow economically will depend primarily on the quality of a region’s "human capital." This issue relates directly to the education, training, talent, and skills of our workforce.

Recent research in our 21st Century Workforce: Central Illinois report indicates our region faces several challenges in developing the human capital of our entrant and incumbent workforce. Findings include the need to: 

One of the key challenges that arose from these findings is the need to make central Illinois a "learning community" and raise public awareness of the importance of education and continuous learning. As a result of this challenge, a number of community leaders are wrestling with the concept of developing a learning community.

The concept of a learning community has been evolving over the past decade to encompass the idea of a community or geographical region that actively integrates its economic, political, educational, social, cultural, and environmental structures to develop the human potential of its citizens. While every community possesses elements of a learning community, the ability to integrate and coordinate these institutions to focus on the principles of lifelong learning and human capital development is what distinguishes the true learning community.

Economic and workforce development organizations have recently come to understand and promote the concept of learning communities as an important tool to support the development of local economies, maintain and expand existing businesses, and attract new businesses. This concept also involves links to major community institutions including: primary and secondary education, adult and vocational education, colleges and universities, business and industry, labor and professional organizations, social and community-based organizations, and local government.

Most importantly, the concept of developing learning communities depends on the active participation, awareness, and motivation of the general public. Employers, workers, families, and students all must be aware and engaged in a lifelong process of education, career preparation, career development, and continuous learning. Access to education and training opportunities is a critical element to the success of the learning community concept. This involves the prioritization of investment in those institutions that develop human capital. Our local businesses and community institutions will also have to develop into "learning organizations," promoting these principles in the workplace.

The ultimate success, however, will be the awareness and motivation of all individuals and families in central Illinois to embrace the principles of lifelong learning. This will probably be our greatest challenge. The Central Illinois Workforce Development Board, through its Talent Force 21 task force, will be taking up this challenge. Over the next few months, Challenge Groups will be developing strategies to define the concept of a learning community and begin the process of raising awareness of the need for personal and community responsibility for education, training, career development, and continuous learning. IBI