How Early Education Shrinks the Workforce Skills Gap
Illinois’ local chamber-of-commerce execs understand importance of early childhood education
When employers can’t find the right workers to fill jobs in a diversifying economy, it drives up their costs. This workforce skills gap often forces businesses to pay more—either by recruiting qualified workers from out of state, or by providing their current employees with further training.
Shrinking that skills gap is a job in itself, and demands a variety of tools. One of the most powerful solutions is investments in young children’s learning and development. Over the years, ReadyNation has provided extensive research on how early childhood education shrinks the skills gap and benefits the workforce.
Among those who understand this connection best are local chamber-of-commerce executives, who have particularly insightful vantage points on their community’s needs.
“If we want talented job candidates when young people hit 18 or 22 years of age, we need to begin helping them prepare from their earliest years of life,” said David Sabathne, President and CEO of the Western DuPage Chamber of Commerce in suburban Chicago. “We can’t wait until they’re in middle or high school; the research is pretty straightforward.”
If we want talented job candidates when young people hit 18 or 22 years of age, we need to begin helping them prepare from their earliest years of life. We can’t wait until middle or high school.
David Sabathne, President & CEO of the Western DuPage Chamber of Commerce
Sabathne is a longtime member of both ReadyNation member and the Illinois Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (IACCE), whose members care deeply about workforce development challenges statewide. To that end, IACCE invited ReadyNation to take part in a recent panel discussion devoted to the subject of “building strong communities,” with workforce-quality concerns taking center stage. Other IACCE panelists included representatives from the Sullivan Chamber of Commerce & Economic Development and the Vermilion Advantage economic development organization.
This decade, Illinois businesses are struggling to fill more than 150,000 jobs with fully qualified workers, according to a recent ReadyNation report. This skills gap is widening, and its challenges seem especially pronounced in some of the fastest-growing STEM fields of work (science, technology, engineering, and math). Early education is a puzzle piece that fits well with other strategies, from Career & Technical Education for older students to workforce-development partnerships among area businesses, high schools, and higher education institutions.
It’s important to "swim upstream” of these problems before employers have to deal with them—and even before K-12 teachers face them, ReadyNation Illinois State Director Sean Noble told the IACCE audience. This bottom-line message usually resonates with an audience of business leaders, and this was no exception: ReadyNation gained 20 new members after the session.
That’s the research-proven role of high-quality early learning programs: helping today’s youth, i.e., tomorrow’s workforce, get off on the right foot.