To stabilize and grow the local economy, employers, educators, and community-based organizations in Peoria have embraced the State’s goal to ensure 60% of their population attains the postsecondary certifications and degrees needed to obtain gainful employment. Community partners joined the Illinois Education and Career Success Network and began exploring ways to locally implement the Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness Act, including teaching, measuring, and certifying the 10 Essential Employability Competencies.
Their result is the Greater Peoria Essential Abilities and Knowledge (GPEAK) system, which was piloted in the 2020–21 school year and released more widely following the pilot. GPEAK is a partnership between Illinois Central College, the CEO Council’s Regional Workforce Development Alliance, the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council, Illinois Community College Board, JFF, and EdSystems. These groups came together with the goal of translating the state’s 10 competencies into a practical system to prepare individuals for meaningful and fulfilling careers. The system evolved into a free and open online platform available to students, education systems, community-based agencies, and employers that provides certification to individuals who have demonstrated mastery of an essential workforce skill.
The first step in the process was to bring more than 85 community members from diverse employers and organizations to the table to establish a common language and shared understanding. Over five months, EdSystems planned and facilitated a series of meetings to discuss the competencies, create detailed descriptions, and determine how to test when those competencies had been achieved. The team brought in NIU’s Center for P-20 Engagement to design a curriculum applicable to both youth and adult learners.
GPEAK’s curricular resources and assessments are built onto the already existing Illinois workNet platform, which is familiar to many Peoria area organizations and very simple and user-friendly on the mentor/employer side. For the individual, the platform provides a full dashboard with a wealth of resources and virtual badges to demonstrate their achievements.
The Fall 2020 pilot sites included Tri-County Urban League, Illinois Central College, and PeoriaCorps and engaged 112 participants. While not all pilot sites offered opportunities for participants to earn competency badges, they utilized the assessments and curricular resources to support participant engagement in and awareness of their current skill level related to the Essential Employability competencies.
In January 2021, EdSystems facilitated feedback from GPEAK mentors and participants on the value of GPEAK, participant experience, and the resources/supports provided through a virtual discussion and survey. Mentors consistently expressed that the GPEAK assessments provided an opportunity to gather more information on participants, which allowed them to better direct their engagement and resources shared with participants and have informed conversations with participants about what they need to build their skills. Participants expressed that the progression scales’ language was difficult for them and not what they were used to seeing on assessments. Based on this feedback, the GPEAK Management Team has established shorter, more concise progression scale definitions to be included in GPEAK assessments.
Working closely with the GPEAK Lead Committee, EdSystems incorporated feedback from the fall pilot and supported a soft launch of GPEAK in the summer 2021. EdSystems is currently supporting the implementation of three new GPEAK committees to encourage continued growth and engagement in the region:
- Employer Market Committee to conduct outreach and onboard employer partners into GPEAK through a community of practice.
- High School Market Committee to conduct outreach and onboard high school partners into GPEAK through a community of practice.
- Curricular Resources Committee to examine and adapt existing resources based on feedback and develop instructional videos and detailed lesson plans for utilizing GPEAK resources in the classroom.
As the GPEAK system becomes more regionally recognized throughout the greater Peoria region, there will be an increased focus on identifying and developing currency for participants with GPEAK competency badges and certifications. The GPEAK Management Team is currently building out a process to connect badge earners with contacts at interested organizations to complete Informational Interviews or learn more about open positions.
Additional regions are now piloting the use of GPEAK outside the Peoria region. To support the expansion, we are hosting a community of practice with Rockford Public Schools, City Colleges of Chicago, and Peoria Regional Learning Center to share resources and best practices. Rockford Public Schools launched its version of the badging system in the 2022–23 school year.