Workforce to Talent Force

A Community Transformation
by Jennifer Brackney
Workforce Network

A talented assembly of workers is needed to fill a growing number of high-skill job openings.

Workforce development… It’s a term you hear a lot these days. But what does it really mean, and why is it important? According to Wikipedia, workforce development is “an American economic development approach that attempts to enhance a region's economic stability and prosperity by focusing on people, rather than businesses.” Interesting… Is that what you think of when you hear those words?

The Central Illinois Workforce Development Board and Workforce Network have been thinking about and acting on workforce development for years. About a decade ago, the Central Illinois Workforce Development Board embarked upon a groundbreaking research project known as 21st Century Workforce: Central Illinois. The study examined the qualitative, quantitative and economic alignment challenges facing the five-county (Peoria MSA) regional workforce and economy.

As a result of global economic forces, demographic trends and educational shortfalls, the study predicted talent shortages and mismatches for the decade beginning in 2010. In short, it projected there would be more workers available for a decreasing number of lower-skilled jobs, and fewer qualified workers for an increasing number of higher-skilled jobs. This forecast came as no surprise to those of us involved in workforce development.

A New Perspective
Already, we are seeing a number of employers in growth sectors like healthcare, skilled manufacturing and other professions experiencing real problems recruiting sufficient numbers of qualified candidates for current and anticipated job openings. More recently, the Central Illinois Workforce Development Board’s Talent Force Taskforce, led by Dr. Jack Gilligan and Dr. Cynthia Fischer, began viewing the nature of the regional workforce in a different light. It wasn’t that our community no longer needed workforce development—we began to understand that what we really need is a talent force.

Upon first hearing the words talent force, one might shrug and say, “Talent force, workforce… What’s the difference?” As Dr. Gilligan outlined in the March 2011 issue of this magazine (online at peoriamagazines.com/ibi/2011/mar), talent force is more than a human resource strategy; it is the development of human capital—the cultivation of a community of motivated people with a commitment to lifelong learning. It means having a region of people with knowledge and skills and the ability to learn new things and work cooperatively and collaboratively with others.

The stark reality is, as a community, region, state and nation, we don’t have the talent force that we need today. Even more alarming, we are failing to prepare one for the future. The American pipeline is, at best, half-full. Of course, the root problem isn’t that Americans don’t have talent; it’s that more than half of the talent isn’t being developed.

So how do we, as a region, begin to attract and develop the talent force needed for today and tomorrow’s jobs?

It Takes a Team
As always, the Central Illinois Workforce Development Board and Workforce Network continue to stay in the forefront of issues relating to workforce and talent force development. As we reflect back on the work we have accomplished over the years, we find ourselves asking, “What’s next? How do we ensure we have a talent force?”

Truthfully, there isn’t a simple answer, and there isn’t a magic wand that can be waved to make it happen. It cannot be done by a single individual or a single organization. This talent force challenge must be taken on as a community, and as a region, state and nation.

As we take the next steps in addressing these issues, we are pleased to be a part of the Focus Forward CI initiative, an asset-based economic development strategy designed to engage all populations in the region. As active members of this initiative, we have participated in identifying goals for creating a new regional economic and workforce development strategy. This strategy, which relies on central Illinois residents working together, deploys a plan to retain and attract new business and grow an educated and trained workforce based on this region’s unique assets.

Obviously, the goals and collaborative approach of Focus Forward CI align well with the goals of the Central Illinois Workforce Development Board. It provides part of a holistic approach to identifying and finding solutions to address the economic, workforce, education and talent force issues facing our region. The Central Illinois Workforce Board and the Workforce Network look forward to working together with our regional partners to continue to forge strong network ties and to focus on the important task of ensuring the right people are available at the right place at the right time. iBi

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