Brief | August 7, 2018

Addressing the “Skills Gap” Through Postsecondary Education Opportunities

How higher education can help us field a stronger workforce and bolster national security

Illinois’ 51 percent rate of post-secondary education attainment beat the national average by nearly four points, as of 2016. But it still fell short of the 60 percent mark that some experts believe will be necessary to meet labor-market demands within the next seven years. It’s important that we redouble our efforts to ensure we can field a well-skilled workforce in this age of growing, global competition – and higher education is a significant tool for achieving that goal.

Not everyone must pursue a college education to obtain the jobs and careers they seek. Nonetheless, a new brief from ReadyNation Illinois cites research demonstrating the benefit of post-secondary training for those who want it:

  • The unemployment rate is lower for those who are able to add to their education beyond high school: 2.8 percent for Illinois workers with a bachelor’s degree, vs. 5.4 percent for those with only a high school diploma.

  • Earnings increase with one’s level of education. For example, workers with an associate’s degree annually average about $14,000 more than those with only a high school diploma – and $34,000 more than those who’ve dropped out of high school.

  • Growth rates are higher for Illinois jobs requiring some education beyond high school (8.2 percent to 12.8 percent) than they are for positions needing no extra education (3.4 percent to 6.5 percent).

Illinois’ fastest job growth involves positions requiring postsecondary learning and credentials – so we must boost opportunities for more job-seekers to attain them.

Tricia O’Brien, President, Hoffman Estates Chamber of Commerce

Thus, ReadyNation supports efforts to make a high-quality, post-secondary education available to all who seek it – bridging the barriers, such as high costs, that stand in the way of access for too many students. This is important not only for addressing the “skills gap” that marks our workforce, but for a similar gap that hinders our military readiness as well.

Seventy percent of young Illinoisans are ineligible to serve in uniform due to poor health, substance abuse/criminal records, or sub-par academics. And as the home of a military and defense industry that contributes almost 150,000 jobs and $13.3 billion in economic activity, our state needs more eligible, educated youth who are ready to serve our country.

Ensuring better quality and access in higher-ed opportunities is a critical component of the cradle-to-career continuum of preparing young people for the future – strengthening our workforce, economy, and even our military readiness.


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