Improve Education and Workforce Development
A well-educated, highly skilled workforce may be the most important ingredient to strengthen our economy and ensure a high quality of life in our region.
Education not only builds a skilled workforce, it also provides social, civic, and personal development. Inequitable access to high-quality education contributes to achievement gaps across racial, ethnic, and economic lines and to the decline of student achievement across the U.S. compared to other industrialized nations. Creating skilled workers for an economy that is constantly changing will require strategic investments and better education and workforce development programs, which must be coordinated and aligned with employers' needs.
While providing access to college should remain a high priority, the majority of jobs will continue to require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree, making education beyond high school increasingly essential. With labor shortages in critical industries like health care and freight, our community colleges, workforce boards, and occupational training institutions must provide specialized workforce training.
As the economy and technology rapidly evolve, many workers will need to learn new skills and match those skills to jobs — often retraining multiple times throughout their careers. But our workforce development system is often difficult for workers to navigate with its numerous programs, initiatives, and funding sources.
Too often graduates find their skills do not match job requirements because education and workforce training don't adapt quickly enough, especially for fast-growing industries. The lack of coordination between these systems often leaves employers' needs unmet as well.
We need an effective, adaptable, and coordinated education and workforce development system to keep workers' skills current. And to ensure that workers gain skills that match employers' needs, the business community should have a larger role in developing workforce programs.
Improve Workforce Services
Inflexible funding programs pose a particular barrier to improving workforce development systems. Making services more flexible will help ensure responsiveness to the needs of workers and employers alike. Our region should monitor and evaluate the impact of new programs and strengthen communityfocused workforce development programs.
While our population will increase across all age groups by 2040, the number of residents over age 50 will increase dramatically. People will tend to change jobs more often throughout their careers, requiring improvements to our workforce development system.
Improve Data and Information
Limited availability of information and data impedes education and workforce development. Tracking progress, assessing program effectiveness, and planning for future needs all require better data sources. As a first step, cmap and The Chicago Community Trust are partnering to launch the Regional Indicators Project's MetroPulse website, which will aggregate current data in a centralized and interactive system. Additional data must also be collected and analyzed for both workforce development and education.
Coordinate Education with Employers
We need to better coordinate education, workforce development, and economic development and to strengthen the role of local service providers — including community colleges, Workforce Investment Boards, and other workforce organizations. Workforce providers should assess current efforts to improve coordination and expand programs that are proven to be successful.