The greater integration of technology into operations and the role of innovation in economic growth are driving an increased need for individuals with STEM degrees. In Illinois, demand for STEM graduates is projected to rise from 266,000 in 2008 to nearly 320,000 in 2018; 57 percent of these occupations will be for computer technicians, programmers, and scientists.1 Online job postings are one indicator of job market trends and offer snapshots of demand throughout the year (see also IT hiring trends 2013). According to CareerBuilder, IT job postings in Chicago have increased 18 percent year over year. Additional data from the Conference Board Help Wanted OnLine showed that 6 of the top 20 occupations in Chicago by number of job postings were in IT: Web developers, computer systems analysts, software and app developers, and network and computer systems administrator occupations each averaged approximately 3,000 job postings per month.
An examination of STEM positions over the past decade shows that despite decreases in many STEM jobs, the Chicago metro remains competitive in computer science occupations. A National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) study of undergraduate employment indicates that while Illinois is roughly on par with the nation in terms of overall STEM undergraduate employment rates, the state is highly specialized for placements in computer-related occupations.2 For a comparison of other STEM occupations, refer to the April Index.
IT positions have become increasingly vital to enable and drive innovation and basic operations in a range of industries. For example, as manufacturing adopts new technology to become more precise and efficient, the demand for talent such as systems and software developers and educated technicians has risen while it has declined for lower-skilled production workers and team assemblers. The growth rate of IT workers in several manufacturing segments stand out. In aerospace and computer equipment manufacturing sectors, for example, IT employment has risen 60 percentage points faster than overall employment.
Health care is experiencing a similar trend. The transition to electronic health records and the Affordable Care Act (including health insurance exchanges and consumer-facing websites) have led providers and insurers to build their tech workforce. The rapid growth of IT occupations in private hospitals also demonstrates the importance of technology to health care operations. While IT employment is still relatively small—in 2012, it accounted for just 1 percent of all private hospital employment—the number of IT occupations in private hospitals increased by 33 percent from 2002 to 2012. By comparison, total employment at private hospitals rose three percent during this time. In addition, biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies increasingly rely on new technologies such as systems biology, bioinformatics, digital modeling, and other IT-based R&D fields to advance the discovery and product development processes.
Several specific occupations within broader STEM categories have exhibited notable growth. Biomedical engineer is the region’s fastest growing position and is needed by a number of industries. Manufacturing currently employs more than 67 percent of all biomedical engineers, followed by research and development (17 percent) and medical facilities (7 percent). The Chicago region leads the nation in food manufacturing, and the industry’s demand for agricultural and food science technicians has outpaced the national rate. These positions, which are concentrated primarily in R&D (40 percent) and manufacturing (33 percent), play an important role in supporting innovation in the industry.
To find qualified employees, companies are relying more heavily on staffing companies; the number of temporary positions in Chicago grew by approximately one-third in the past decade, outpacing national growth, which rose by 14 percent during this time. According to the Conference Board’s Help Wanted OnLine, the number of staffing companies among the top ten companies by volume of online job postings in Chicago grew from two in 2011 to five in 2012, perhaps reflecting an increased reliance on contingent labor. Recent research indicates that contingent and temporary positions are approximately 2 to 3 percent of total national employment; this proportion holds true for STEM and non-STEM occupations.
For STEM definition and methodology, refer to the April 2013 Index.
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Illustration by Dieter Braun