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Workforce

A skilled workforce is a critical component of regional economic growth.  Many jobs that once required only a high school degree now require additional specialized training or a postsecondary education.  Ensuring that Chicago's workforce has access to advanced educational opportunities will prepare the region to compete in the global economy.   

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Educational Attainment

What
The proportion of residents in the seven-county CMAP region age 25 or older with at least a high school degree or associate degree.  

Why it matters
Within the Chicago region, an estimated 86.7 percent of residents hold a high school degree or higher (including those with some college but no degree), and 42.9 percent hold an associate degree or higher.  The proportion of residents holding a high school degree or higher closely mirrors the national average, while the regional proportion of residents with an associate degree or higher exceeds the national average.

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The overall level of resident education within metropolitan areas is a useful proximate measure for regional economic prosperity.  Higher levels of education are generally associated with lower unemployment rates, a more innovative workforce, and a more economically vibrant region.  Many jobs that previously only required a high school education are becoming more complex. Employers now seek workers with advanced skills that can raise productivity and help firms compete in the global marketplace.

National Trends in Education

Nationally, 86.4 percent of Americans hold a high school degree or higher, and 37.1 percent hold an associate degree or higher.  Since 2006, the percentage of residents with a high school degree or higher has increased by 2.3 percent, and the percentage of residents holding an associate degree or higher has increased by 2.7 percent.

Within the seven-county CMAP region, an estimated 86.7 percent of residents hold a high school degree or higher, and 42.9 percent hold at least an associate degree.  The proportion of the region's residents holding a high school degree or higher matches the national average, while the proportion of residents with at least an associate degree exceeds the national average.  Since 2006 the region's share of residents holding at least an associate degree has increased by roughly 0.53 percent per year, which is slightly faster than the national average increase of 0.45 percent per year between 2006-12.

Education in Metropolitan Chicago Compared to Peer Regions

It is not uncommon for metropolitan areas to exceed the national average in terms of postsecondary degree attainment.  Metropolitan areas are more likely to have advanced academic institutions and tend to attract more professionals than rural areas.  Nearly 43 percent of residents in the Chicago region hold an associate degree or higher, which surpasses the Los Angeles metro (38.8 percent), but falls short of other regions such as Washington, D.C. (53.8 percent), Boston (50.1 percent), or New York (43.5 percent). 

About the Data

The U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey tracks education levels in various geographies and produces degree attainment estimates each year.  Educational attainment in metropolitan regions is tracked by examining the population of residents age 25 and over that hold either a high school degree or higher, or an associate degree or higher. 

As entry level jobs become increasingly complex, obtaining additional education will be critical for workforce success.  While most individuals have traditionally pursued an associate or bachelor degree in postsecondary instruction, some employers are now placing increased emphasis on post-secondary certifications which can be obtained more quickly at a much lower cost.  These certifications, often referred to as "stackable credentials" are especially prominent in fields such as manufacturing and health care.

Because stackable credentials are a relatively new phenomenon, the U.S. Census Bureau does not collect data on credential attainment, and data on credential attainment in the State of Illinois and Chicago metropolitan area is not available.  Nevertheless, standardizing credential attainment data and measuring attainment among the region's residents will eventually allow for a more robust analysis of the state of the region's workforce.

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Workforce Participation

What
The proportion of working age residents (20 to 64 years old) who are currently employed or looking for work.

Why it matters
Workforce participation in metropolitan Chicago exceeds the national average and outpaces some peer metropolitan areas.  Since the end of the most recent recession the region's workforce participation rate has increased at a rate slightly higher than the national average and exceeded increases in the New York and Los Angeles regions, but fallen short of increases in the Washington, D.C. and Boston metropolitan areas. An increase in workforce participation generally seen as a positive indicator of regional economic opportunity; however the measure has many nuances.  Workforce participation counts individuals who are either working or looking for work.  Therefore, workforce participation rates can increase while unemployment increases if those individuals are actively seeking jobs.

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National and Local Trends in Workforce Participation

National workforce trends show that, between 2005-12, workforce participation for persons aged 20 to 64 declined from 77.8 percent to 77.1 percent.  While workforce participation decreased on a national level, in the Chicago region it increased by an estimated 1.2 percent during the same period.  Increased workforce participation is seen as a positive sign that suggests a decrease in the number of discouraged workers (individuals who are able to work but are currently unemployed and have not searched for employment in the last four weeks due to a lack of suitable options or a lack of success through previous job applications).

Workforce Participation in other Metropolitan Areas

The region's workforce participation rate exceeds the national average and exceeds participation rates in peer regions like New York and Los Angeles.  Other peer regions such as Washington, D.C., and Boston have slightly higher workforce participation rates.  Long-term trends show workforce participation increasing in most metropolitan areas.  

About the Data

There are many caveats to note when analyzing workforce participation statistics.  While at first glance a higher workforce participation rate is presumably better, both negative and positive factors affect workforce participation rates.  Decreasing workforce participation is generally attributed to an increasing number of discouraged workers.  When workers cannot find jobs and give up their search, they are no longer assumed to be participants in the workforce and a region's overall workforce participation rate declines.  Lower workforce participation rates can also be attributed to positive factors, such as an increasing number of people choosing to forego work in order to pursue a postsecondary education.  Just as decreases in the workforce participation rate can be attributed to positive or negative factors, so too can increases in workforce participation rates.  In general, however, higher rates of workforce participation are seen as beneficial for a regional economy as higher rates constitute a larger supply of workers.

Data show workforce participation rates for metropolitan statistical areas as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau.  The Chicago metropolitan statistical area encompasses 14 counties, including Kenosha County in southeast Wisconsin and several counties in northwest Indiana.

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Skills Gap

What
The number of job openings compared to corresponding post-secondary educational program completions in the Chicago region for the fields of Mechanic and Repair Technologies; Precision Production; and Transportation and Material Moving.

Why it matters
The comparison of job openings and related educational program completion data can be used as a rough measure of labor demand for specific occupations.  The three career fields measured here represent mid-skill manufacturing occupations, which require more than a high school diploma but not necessarily a college degree.  These types of occupations will become increasingly common as the region's manufacturing cluster continues to compete in a global environment.  Greater coordination of educational programming and workforce needs will help the region close its workforce skills gap and ensure the continued growth of the region's industry clusters.

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Openings and Completions in Cluster Industry Jobs

Job openings and post-secondary educational program completion data provide insights into the regional balance of skills sought by employers and skills held by the region's workforce.  Matching employer needs with skilled workers is beneficial to both parties.  This indicator tracks three mid-skill career fields -- Mechanic and Repair Technologies; Precision Production; and Transportation and Material Moving -- in order to illustrate gaps between job openings and educational program completions, which can vary substantially from year to year.  The following chart lists job openings and educational program completions from 2008-12.

The number of openings in each of the career categories tracked was relatively low during the economic downturn from 2008-09 with many more openings between 2010-12.  The Precision Production career field, which includes positions such as Machinist; Tool and Die Technician; Metal Fabricator; and Cabinetmaker, has had a significantly higher number of job openings than educational program completions for the past four years.  An increase in the global movement of goods has helped increase openings in Transportation and Material Moving, and estimates from 2010-12 show job openings outpacing educational program completions.

Aligning the region's workforce training systems with employer needs through strategic planning could help alleviate skills gaps.  In some parts of the region, employers are already working with education institutions to ensure that students receive the most up-to-date, relevant training required to gain employment after graduation.  Additional coordination among workforce development stakeholders and employers could further address these issues.

About the Data

The Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) taxonomy is used to categorize fields and programs of study. This analysis tracks three separate CIPS categories: Mechanic and Repair Technologies (CIPS 47); Precision Production (48); and Transportation and Material Moving (49).

Job opening estimates are obtained from EMSI proprietary data sources and include job openings attributed to both industry growth and attrition (individuals leaving their position).  Completion data are obtained from EMSI and originate from the National Center for Education Statistics.  Job openings data represent point-in-time estimates of the labor market for each career and should be understood as a general illustration of market conditions.  Individuals completing a specific post-secondary training program may not necessarily be seeking a job in the corresponding industry field, and job opening data may not reflect actual job opening totals since some positions are filled without being advertised.

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STEM Occupations

What
Employment in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics fields in the seven-county Chicago region.

Why it matters
The demands of many professions are becoming increasingly complex as technology drives innovation and growth in today's economy.  Workers regularly face challenges that require critical thinking and analytical skills.  Proficiency in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics -- STEM -- is increasingly important.  Compared to overall employment in the region, the number of STEM positions has grown faster (or in some cases declined more slowly) in nine of the last ten years. 

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Education and Employment in the Chicago Region

In 2013 the seven-county CMAP region was home to 467,000 STEM jobs, which accounted for 11.0 percent of the region's total jobs.  Regional STEM employment has closely followed national economic trends, with employment increasing between 2004-08, followed by a large decline between 2008-10 during the recession.  Since then, STEM employment in the region has grown and now stands at a level higher than its pre-recession peak of 463,000 jobs.  The proportion of Chicago region jobs falling under the STEM category has increased slightly over the last 11 years, accounting for 10.6 percent of the region's total employment in 2002 and 11.0 percent in 2013.

While the U.S. is a leader in the field of scientific innovation, standardized tests show that many students perform poorly in STEM subjects relative to students in other developed nations.  The U.S. also lags behind other nations in producing graduates with core STEM degrees such as natural science or engineering, according to studies.  This mediocre student performance in the STEM field has garnered increasing attention in recent years has led to the passage of education reforms aimed at enriching the STEM curriculum at the federal level.  Many of the fastest growing and highest paying career fields require STEM skills, and providing students with adequate STEM educations will help prepare them for the demands of future occupations.

About the Data

EMSI data are used to estimate total STEM employment in the seven-county CMAP region.  STEM employment reported here includes STEM occupations as classified by the federal Standard Occupation Code Policy Committee in 2010

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