The Workforce Connection (TWC) is currently developing comprehensive regional and local workforce development strategic plans for the period of July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2024.  Our plan is being developed in collaboration with many regional partners for the Northern Stateline Economic Development Region which includes, Boone, Ogle, Stephenson and Winnebago Counties to recognize economic and social linkages. 

Developing the regional plan is a requirement of The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and proves to be timely and relevant.  WIOA funds for our area support workers and those looking for work to increase their skills and match the evolving needs of employers to have a ready pipeline of talent for current and future workforce needs.     

The regional planning process is meant to foster regional collaboration by aligning workforce development programs and economic development strategies.  Employers are also part of the planning process to ensure that investments into training programs meet the demand of employers in our region.     

Early on in his administration, Governor Pritzker issued an executive order (stemming from the four-year Unified State Plan) to strengthen the state’s commitment to workforce development and job creation.  As a local workforce board, TWC is required to address the three action areas called out in the governor’s executive order and include them as part of our regional plan.  (1) Unite workforce development partners around regional cluster strategies (2) Prepare Illinois workers for a career, not just their next job (3) Connect career seekers with employers.

During the process, we have collected and analyzed regional labor market information to identify targeted industries, high-impact clusters and in-demand occupations for the region, as well as the skills required.  Industries and occupations are categorized based on growth and replacements in addition to understanding the employment needs of employers in existing and emerging industry sectors and occupations.  Our work has engaged business, education and workforce development stakeholders to provide input and to make certain there is alignment with other plans.

In an economy where the unemployment rate declined by 4.3% over the last year, our unemployment rate still sits at 5.1% for November of 2019.  If we want to increase economic development for our region, considerations must be made to create an economy that works for everyone by increasing the skills of the workforce, including those with barriers to employment.

To guarantee maximizing regional resources, we strive to elevate successful workforce development activities and strengthen the weak to address the education and skill needs of the workforce.  The public workforce system in Illinois has made service integration a priority this year and our vision is to provide a fully-integrated and accessible workforce development system that balances the needs of individuals and businesses to ensure our region has a skilled workforce to effectively compete in the global economy.

In addition to a regional plan, that covers the counties that make up our Economic Development Region, we are also required to develop a four-year action plan for Boone, Stephenson and Winnebago, which makes up our local workforce area.  The local plan sets forth strategies to direct investments in economic, education and workforce training programs to provide relevant education and training to make certain that individuals, including youth and individuals with barriers to employment, have the skills to compete in the global market and that employers have a ready supply of skilled workers. 

Two areas receiving lots of focus and attention are apprenticeships and other work-based learning opportunities that include credentials with shortened times to employment.  The intention is to meet the needs of employers who are in dire straits with jobs going unfilled.  Through partnerships with educational providers, we want to expand career pathway opportunities with more accelerated programs that lead to industry-recognized credentials that improve employment and earnings.

If you’re interested in learning more about the work that’s gone into developing our four-county regional workforce, please join us and attend the regional stakeholders meeting on Wednesday, January 15, 2020 at 10:30 a.m., location hosted by Plumbers & Pipe Fitters UA, 4525 Boeing Drive, Rockford, IL.

The Workforce Connection is a partnership of state and federally funded employment and training programs and educational entities committed to providing a workforce that meets the needs of our business community, now and in the future.  

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