State Farm CEO Ed Rust spoke to an audience of more than 320 at a Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce Public Affairs breakfast Friday morning, Feb. 8. (Stephanie Pawlowski/WJBC)
By Stephanie Pawlowski
PEORIA - Challenges facing the business community, the need to develop workforce skills and changing technology.
Those are just some of the topics State Farm CEO Ed Rust talked about Friday morning in a speech before the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce. Rust was the featured speaker in the chamber's first Public Affairs series.
Rust said there is a widening skills gap between what employees have and what businesses need to grow.
"In the U.S., there are an estimated 3.6 million unfilled jobs available for skilled workers," Rust said. "Of course between 120,000 and 140,000 are right here in Illinois."
Rust said businesses are challenged in finding employees with the proper skill sets, but also said businesses don't invest as much on employee training.
"Studies show that in 1979, young workers received an average of 2.5 weeks of training a year. A recent study by Accenture reported that only 21 percent of employees received any training at all over the previous five years," Rust said.
Driving home the point of continuing training, Rust said the skill sets workers have today will be inadequate in five to seven years.
Rust said it is important for business leaders to stay involved in public policy as lawmakers look for solutions to the struggling economy, pension funding shortfalls and the state's credit downgrading.
"Today, and perhaps more so than ever, finding powerful, impactful, constructive policy positions is critical for the long term growth and success of our nation," Rust said.
Speaking after the breakfast, Rust said Gov. Quinn has some difficult issues to work through.
"Business being involved in those discussions, that debate I think is very important. It's understanding what the consequences of actions or inactions have," Rust said.
When asked about Gov. Quinn's push for a minimum wage increase, Rust said he hasn't seen the proposal, but would urge lawmakers to think about what would happen if it passes.
"A number of folks are saying, 'I'm not adding (jobs) in Illinois, or I'm not coming to Illinois,'" Rust said. "That's something that needs a more rigorous debate."
Quinn's suggestion is to raise the statewide minimum wage from $8.25 to $10 an hour.
During his nearly 40 minute speech, Rust also touched on working with a growing and changing technology, the use of more robots and cyber attacks. He talked about the number of regulations facing farmers. And, Rust even discussed the development of common core standards in education.
Rust is the Chairman of the Board and CEO of State Farm. He is chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and is the former chairman of the Business-Higher Education Forum and Business Roundtable's Education Initiative. He served on the National (Glenn) Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century and on the No Child Left Behind Commission.
Rust is also a member of the Caterpillar Inc. board of directors and was introduced at the Peoria Chamber breakfast by Caterpillar CEO Doug Oberhelman.