Report | April 27, 2016

Illinois’ STEM Workforce Starts with Early Education

How to build a foundation for jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics for tomorrow's workforce

Illinois could realize nearly 100,000 new jobs in STEM­ related fields in the course of this decade, but a “skills gap” has employers concerned with finding qualified people to fill these jobs. To lay a solid foundation for the STEM workforce of the future, Illinois business leaders are calling for investments in high ­quality early learning programs, such as preschool, child care and “parent coaching” programs for new parents of at­-risk infants and toddlers.

STEM jobs are growing in Illinois

Career opportunities in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) are growing rapidly. Jobs in healthcare, which also require STEM skills, are growing, too. In Illinois, a 16 percent increase in STEM jobs and a 22 percent increase in health care jobs are predicted from 2010­ to 2020. STEM jobs are also typically higher paying than jobs in many other fields, with some boasting salaries more than double the median salary for all workers. And this salary boost holds despite the fact that many STEM jobs do not require four-­year college degrees.

If we want a vibrant business community, we should use every available, proven tool. Early learning initiatives help kids establish a foundation for achievement in school and beyond.

Kaili Harding, President, Schaumburg Business Association

But a “skills gap” may leave new STEM jobs unfilled

Data also indicates that we might not have the skilled workforce necessary to meet the increasing demand for STEM workers: Only 32 percent of Illinois 8th graders are proficient in math and only 26 percent are proficient in science. Further, nearly half of students who graduated high school in 2013 and went on to attend Illinois community colleges were enrolled in remedial courses, 41 percent of them in remedial math.

Stronger early learning investments can shape a better­ skilled workforce

A growing body of research suggests that developing STEM proficiency starts much earlier than high school, middle school or even elementary school. Instead, data show the importance of teaching math in preschool and kindergarten.To meet this challenge, business leaders are calling for protecting and strengthening key investments in young children’s learning and development. This report outlines several of those investments.


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