MATTOON – As chair of the Governor’s Rural Affairs Council, Lt. Governor Sheila Simon will host a rural listening post in Eastern Illinois on Thursday evening to collect ideas on how to improve education and employment in non-metro areas of the state.
The public forum will be held from 6-8 p.m. in Webb Hall at Lake Land College in Mattoon. It is the third in a statewide series of “rural listening posts” hosted by the Rural Affairs Council and the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs (IIRA) at Western Illinois University for citizens, elected officials, business owners and non-profit leaders. Feedback will be collected by the IIRA and used to develop a strategic plan for the council and its state agency members.
Joining Simon at the listening post will be Lake Land College President Scott Lensink, Mattoon Mayor Tim Gover, and the executive director of the East Central Illinois Development Corporation, Jean Anne Grunloh.
“As a state, we are working with employers, high schools, community colleges and public universities to create pathways from school to work and from college to career,” Simon said. “I look forward to hearing from listening post participants about how we can strengthen the pathways and help rural residents find good-paying jobs.”
Simon anticipates listening post participants will discuss the challenges and opportunities that exist for rural Illinois citizens to work in manufacturing, as those jobs become more technologically advanced. A survey by the Manufacturing Institute found that five percent of manufacturing jobs nationwide are going unfilled, which adds up to nearly 28,000 unfilled manufacturing jobs in Illinois.
To keep pace with a changing economy, Illinois needs 60 percent of working-age adults to have a college degree or credential by 2025, Simon said. But in the 66 counties classified as non-metro by the IIRA, only a quarter of working-age adults have a two-year degree or higher and average wages in non-metro areas are nearly $20,000 less than in metro areas.
To help meet the need for more skilled workers, Lake Land College in Mattoon recently began hosting business roundtables with area employers. These roundtables will be used to tailor academic offerings to the needs of employers and offer assistance to help companies meet their hiring needs such as customized worker training.
“The skills gap in manufacturing in our region is utmost in our minds,” said Charles Bovard, the director of the Center for Business and Industry at Lake Land College. “From basic math skills all the way to structured problem solving and technical skills, addressing the gap is very important in remaining competitive in a global marketplace.”
To ensure workers have the skills needed for 21st Century jobs, Simon is pursuing a complete college reform package that aims to improve college and career readiness in math. This includes Senate Bill 3244 which authorizes the Illinois State Board of Education to design and recommend curriculum models that illustrate how to teach state standards in middle and high school math.
Rural listening posts were held by Lt. Governor George Ryan across Illinois in 1986 and led to creation of the Governor’s Rural Affairs Council the following year. In 1998, 2000 and 2007, the Rural Affairs Council, the IIRA and the Illinois Rural Partners, a non-profit, organized listening posts across Illinois to directly gather input from rural citizens. The 25-member council is comprised of citizen members and representatives from various state agencies, institutions and organizations that impact rural Illinois.
Upcoming listening posts will be held in Freeport, Gibson City and Quincy. For more information on the rural listening posts, please visit www.ltgov.illinois.gov.