For companies to pursue innovation, they must have workers with the right skills to conduct research, develop novel processes and products, and operate increasingly complex equipment. As technology continues to support almost every component of business, the need for skilled workers to fuel innovation will only increase. Occupations in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields are among the most integral to innovation; examining the regional STEM workforce can shed light on Chicago’s innovation ecosystem.1
STEM jobs in Chicago reflect national cycle of recession and recovery
In the past decade, Chicago’s STEM workforce2 has closely mirrored trends in the national economy. As in other parts of the country, the recent recession had a significant impact on the Chicago region’s STEM workforce, which contracted by 5 percent from 2008 to 2010. However, the region has rebounded, adding 2,500 STEM positions in 2011 and nearly 5,000 in 2012.
A closer look at data for the Chicago region over the past decade reveals divergent trends for specific STEM occupations. Chicago has added positions in computer occupations (which include software and Web developers and programmers as well as information technology positions that administrate computer networks and systems) and social sciences (which include economists, survey researchers, and sociologists) while losing employment in engineering and the life and physical sciences.
Growth within the Chicago region’s STEM workforce
Chicago has a smaller share of its total workforce in STEM occupations compared with the national average, and this proportion has declined during the past ten years. The following chart uses location quotients to highlight regional areas of specialization.3 Of all STEM fields, the Chicago region currently maintains a specialization only in computer occupations.
The region has also become less specialized in STEM positions over time: every occupation except social scientists had a higher location quotient in 2002 than in 2012. In other words, the Chicago region’s STEM workforce has not kept pace with national trends.
Supporting positive trends
Despite lagging behind national trends, Chicago has demonstrated growth potential in several emerging high-tech areas. For example, the number of biomedical engineers—a subset of the engineering category and the region’s fastest-growing specific STEM occupation—nearly doubled in the Chicago region over the past decade. Other fast-growing areas include agricultural and food science technicians and environmental science and protection technicians. Yet in many of these emerging fields, the region’s growth rate still trails the national average.
Tracking the growth of Chicago’s workforce in STEM occupations against national trends will help policy makers, academic institutions, investors, and other stakeholders consider strategies to address this challenge and harness emerging strengths. The next monthly issue will feature data on the education programs that train workers for STEM occupations. Together, these data sets will provide a more complete picture of the needs and opportunities to build the highly competitive workforce required to fuel innovation.
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