When more than 2,300 8th graders came together for a career expo in Peoria in October, it was just the latest example of the transformative impact of the Illinois 60 by 25 Network and its partners. The Greater Peoria Economic Development Council, the lead intermediary organization in Peoria, is planning the expo as part of a years-long collective, communitywide effort to improve college and career readiness while developing and retaining talent in the Peoria region. The expo and other efforts of the council are part of a coordinated regional initiative, Peoria Pathways to Prosperity, in partnership with the Peoria School District 150, the Mayor of Peoria, Illinois Central College and local businesses.
The innovative college and career readiness practices under way in Peoria further career exploration, starting in elementary and secondary education, and ensure students are prepared for trade programs, two-year colleges, four-year colleges and in identifying and developing a career path. That extends to high school curriculum, too, as Peoria’s three high schools have organized course offerings around 16 career clusters, or industries. Peoria is one of 10 communities in Illinois selected to participate in a competency-based education pilot that will reinforce the competencies needed for a career rather than gauge student success on typical metrics such as seat time. The courses are accompanied by an internship program that has placed 70 students with 18 companies in the past year.
“This is the way the nation is thinking about workforce development,” said Brent Baker, Peoria Pathways coordinator with the council. “We’re demonstrating it with the work here in Illinois with models that are innovative nationally. Continuing to plug practitioners across the state into the [60 by 25] work is huge.”
In addition to the expo, the 60 by 25 Network has assisted Peoria by funding software that connects students with employers and internships. Baker and the council have presented at the annual 60 by 25 Network meeting and benefited from information sharing as meeting participants as well.
“Any resources are invaluable in the nonprofit space,” Baker said. “Plugging into best practices and being highlighted at conferences has been incredibly valuable and shined a light on this work.”