Investing in Workforce Development

Working together, we can spur economic growth and help more residents earn a livable wage.

by Jennifer Zammuto, Heart of Illinois United Way

From childhood milestones to the wellbeing of an entire community, the concept of development is essential to establishing long-term outcomes, measuring growth and creating lasting impact. Amartya Sen, winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize in economics, believes that development is a form of freedom that should enable people to reach their highest potential through equal access to economic opportunities. 

In order for our community to grow, workforce development is essential to providing a livable wage and attracting new business to the Peoria area. A ready workforce does not necessarily mean an increase in advanced degrees, but it does include increased access to training and certifications that can improve wages and employability. 

New Training Opportunities
The Peoria CEO Council’s Regional Workforce Development Alliance, in partnership with Illinois Central College, is working to ensure business leaders create and share opportunities for training and certifications to individuals who are underemployed. Currently, only 40 percent of people in central Illinois have some form of education or certification past a high school diploma. By increasing this level to 60 percent or more, our community can increase economic vitality, spur growth and have more residents earning a livable wage. To do so, our efforts need to focus on skilled training, enrollment in community college, and opportunities for alternative education such as certifications. 

While job search and placement services may help underemployed individuals in the short term, they often lead to placement in low-skill jobs that do not increase income or economic opportunities. Individuals who receive workforce-specific training and education, however, see greater increases in employability and earnings. 

A majority of this work starts within our local schools and nonprofits. We need to ensure students and agency clients understand the employment and educational opportunities available to them so they can make better choices about continuing education. It is also essential to work with our health and human care agencies to help individuals and families break down multiple barriers to employment including disability, mental health and substance abuse, homelessness, illiteracy, gaps in work history, childcare needs, lack of transportation and many more.

Collaborating For Impact
For a strong, healthy economy, communities must come together to address how to boost talent development and economic growth. In conjunction with the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council’s efforts to bring new business to our area, an investment in workforce development will improve the livelihoods of everyone in our community. Businesses want to be located where people want to live, and factors such as housing, cost of living and quality of life influence these decisions. 

The Heart of Illinois United Way and the critical services of our partner agencies are vital to workforce development. It’s just one way we can all work together with the CEO Council and the EDC to make a positive impact and further develop the communities we all call home. PM

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