Given its slowed growth, metropolitan Chicago must capitalize on the full potential and productivity of its human capital by collaborating at the front lines of our complex adult education and training systems. Recent demographic trends suggest the region will face obstacles to sustain a diverse, adaptive, skilled workforce. As the region's economic progress has slowed in recent years, so has its population growth, gaining just 0.65 percent during 2010-16. Our labor force -- residents who are 16 years or older and either working or actively seeking work -- declined by approximately 52,000 workers between 2008-16 and is aging rapidly. Population growth is both a condition and a consequence of economic prosperity, as residents choose where to live based on their perceptions of economic opportunity and quality of life. Slow population growth can burden the regional economy with a narrower tax base, fewer job opportunities, and a smaller labor pool.
[GRAPHIC TO COME: An interactive graphic will provide information on job polarization in the Chicago region between 1980-2016.]
Because the global economy is changing at an accelerated scale, scope, and speed, our workforce and education systems must become more flexible and effective at building the region’s workforce. As skill demands have shifted, higher levels of post-secondary training -- as well as additional training throughout a career -- have become necessary for individuals to succeed in the job market. Nearly half of Chicago residents age 25 and older (45.7 percent) had an Associate degree or higher in 2016, including more than 2.2 million residents with a Bachelor degree or higher. Maintaining a skilled workforce can translate to improved economic security for residents and a competitive advantage for the region as a whole. Educational attainment is one of many ON TO 2050 indicators -- like workforce participation and employment in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields -- that can be used to assess the how the region’s labor market responds to economic shifts.
A key missing component in data-driven approaches is information on education and training programs that do not lead to an accredited degree. Providers are increasingly expected to shorten the time to credential, to give students flexibility to intersperse learning and earning, to meet the needs of a growing share of English language learners, and to balance the remedial education and skills training for employment today with the foundational knowledge for a longer-term career. Several non-traditional education strategies have already emerged as providers test new models to deliver learning and boost outcomes. Yet serious challenges exist to delivering these programs. For example, recent research has questioned the transferability and economic value of some sub-baccalaureate certificates.
In a more competitive economy, capturing opportunities for regional economic growth requires well-informed analysis, diligent forecasting, and responsiveness to shifts in the labor market. In a broad universe of education and workforce development programs, demand-driven strategies depend on having the systems in place to evaluate the economic outcomes of participants and to assess diverse program elements. On a programmatic scale, educators and training providers often lack the ability to gauge their programs’ efficacy or long-term value because of data gaps on education and employment outcomes. On a regional scale, workforce funders often lack necessary information to align program elements and underused capacity of existing programs. Numerous state and local systems capture data consistent with reporting requirements under WIOA, a 2014 federal effort to support strategies that reflect changing economic conditions. But because these data systems remain disconnected, inconsistent across service providers, and incomplete, they often lack sufficient information to coordinate regional systems.
In many ways, the Chicago region has been a national leader in integrating workforce and education data. The Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership’s Career Connect and Illinois Longitudinal Data System both combine information across numerous programs to improve services for residents, employers, and public and private workforce funders. These initiatives have provided a foundation for regional cooperation on WIOA implementation, emphasizing the central role that integrated data systems play in pursuing unified planning, partnership development, and sustainable funding. Such tools are especially important given a renewed national focus on evidence that workforce investments properly serve populations who face barriers to accessing or sustaining employment.
The following describes strategies and associated actions to implement this recommendation.