Overview of Issues


Integration of Workforce and Economic Development

IWF believes that without economic development strategies that prioritize and integrate workforce development, Illinois will be a less attractive place to locate or grow a business. Workforce and economic development activities happen across a variety of state and local agencies, and involve many types of stakeholder groups. If carefully designed, workforce and economic development strategies can be aligned across multiple systems and fit together to efficiently use natural, human, and fiscal resources to create jobs and generate wealth and well-being for all Illinoisans.

By investing in workforce education and training that are tied to strategies to create and retain jobs, policymakers can position Illinois for federal resources and create opportunities to low-income workers. Failure to do so will further deepen skilled labor shortages and threaten Illinois’ economic prosperity into the future.

Equally important is for traditional job creation strategies to prioritize high road employers–those that provide sustainable quality jobs, wages and benefits that allow workers, including those with varying skill levels and barriers to employment, to succeed in the local labor market.

Issues in Action: Job Creation through Social Enterprise

Addressing Barriers to Employment

In a competitive job market, a significant number of job seekers in Illinois face additional barriers to employment.  People who are homeless, high school dropouts, public benefits recipients, people with criminal records, limited English speakers, and the disabled, have an even more difficult time finding employment than the typical job seeker.  Moreover, more than one million adults in Illinois have no high school diploma.

Often employers are reluctant to hire someone with these challenges, either because they perceive that person as an increased risk or because they are not aware of the incentives for employers who hire employees with barriers to employment. Additionally, the workforce development system does not have the resources to adequately serve job seekers with barriers to employment.

Strategies to help overcome barriers to employment need to be supported and expanded.  Examples include:

  • Transitional Jobs are time-limited, subsidized jobs that combine real work, skill development and support services that have proven effective at serving a broad range of hard-to-employ individuals including welfare recipients, people with criminal records, at-risk youth, refugees, people with disabilities, and others.
  • Work readiness and employability training provide individuals with the job readiness skills they need to meet the expectations of the workplace and be successful in their jobs.
  • A safety net of income and work supports for low-wage workers and the unemployed, which is sufficient to ensure adequate and decent housing, nutrition, childcare, and health care until individuals and families obtain self-sustaining employment.

Issues in Action: Transitional Jobs: Reducing Barriers to Employment

Training & Education

Workers with less education are more likely to be unemployed.  The demand for skilled workers remains strong, even during times of recession with near record unemployment levels.  Of the projected job openings through 2016, 45 percent will require at least a high school diploma, and 52 percent will require more than a high school diploma, but less than a four year degree.

In contrast to the demand for skilled workers more than one million adults in Illinois have no high school diploma or the equivalent, and approximately 40 percent have no education at all beyond high school.  Unless Illinois increases access to workforce education and training, many new opportunities for low-income workers to support their families will be lost.

Bridge programs which combine basic education with occupational skills in contextualized learning models, contextualized literacy, sectoral strategies, and programs such as the Job Training and Economic Development Program and the Employment Opportunities Grant Program are designed to equip job seekers with the education and technical skills needed to be successful.  Greater investment in these strategies is needed to ensure access to those most in need in all areas of Illinois.

Sustainable, Flexible Funding

There is currently a severe shortage of funding for workforce services in Illinois.

Sustainable sources of funding are required so the stability of the local workforce development infrastructure is not dependent on the outcomes of the yearly legislative budget process  Sustainable funding can ensure that workforce services continue and even expand during times when the economy is struggling.

Funding for the Workforce Investment Act (the largest federal source for workforce services), has decreased over the years and serves fewer job-seekers than it once did.  The WIA system is not funded at the scale necessary to serve the number of low-skill, low-income individuals who need employment services.

For example, in 2008, Chicago’s WIA system served only about 1.4 percent (7,600) of the approximately 550,000 Chicagoans who live below the federal poverty line.  This funding continues to decrease–from July 2010 through June 2011, WIA Title 1 Youth and Adult funding allocations for Illinois will decrease by 10% from the prior year.

State-funding for workforce development programs in DCEO is relatively low, with their job training programs slated for a total of 15 million dollars. What state funding there is, is “up for grabs” every year, since they are subject to appropriation by lawmakers.

New sustainable resources need to be secured to take successful state-level workforce and economic strategies from pilots to scale, such as components of bridge programming piloted through the Shifting Gears Initiative and transitional jobs programs that, up to now, have only had one-time funding sources, and to continue to develop and implement innovative workforce and economic development strategies in underserved communities.

Flexibility of resources is critical so that communities throughout Illinois have the capacity to respond to changes in the economic landscape of a region.  Flexibility helps ensure the local workforce is ready and able to take advantage of new and emerging jobs and that training can be customized to meet the needs of local employers.

Issues in Action: Investing in a 21st Century Workforce

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