Wilkes-Barre, June 14 – Regional business chamber officials joined forces with military leaders today to release a new report detailing how high quality pre-k is important to developing STEM skills—those essential capabilities in science, technology, engineering, and math demanded in the 21st Century workforce. The report calls on state policymakers to expand access to high quality pre-k as part of the 2016-17 state budget.
“Our concern about the development of STEM skills in young people is well-founded,” said Wico van Genderen, President & CEO of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business and Industry. “STEM-based jobs like computer science and healthcare are expected to grow by 20 percent to 37 percent nationally in coming years. They are driving the economy, and yet, more than half of Pennsylvania employers have reported trouble finding people with adequate skills, training, or education, especially in technical and skilled job openings.”
Retired Army Major General Joe Perugino of Kingston also warned that our tech-focused military faces similar challenges. “Like all employers, the armed forces need people with STEM skills,” said Perugino. “As just one example, the U.S. Army has 16 laboratories and research centers where more than 16,000 world-class scientists and engineers develop technologies that give our soldiers advanced capabilities. It is therefore troubling to know that inadequate education is a major factor that precludes 72 percent of Pennsylvania’s 17-24 year-olds from enlisting in the military.”
This workforce “skills gap” reflects a similar gap within Pennsylvania classrooms. Nearly two-thirds of Pennsylvania eighth-graders are not proficient in math and science. Plus, one in four students entering Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education schools requires remedial math and/or English. For low-income students the rate rises to 40 percent.
Serving as a backdrop for the conference was the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber’s Innovation Center – a business incubator in downtown Wilkes-Barre that houses several high-tech startups. Joseph Boylan, Vice-President for Economic Development at the Chamber explained, “as the technology firms grow here at the Innovation Center, they will be looking to hire new employees with the tech skills they need.”
Businesses and chambers are being proactive in addressing STEM skill deficiencies by retraining current employees and creating strategic partnerships with schools,” said Boylan. “Additionally, research is clear that a long-term plan to address our growing STEM needs should also focus on early childhood.”
“The skills gap will seriously affect our ability to find a talented and qualified future workforce,” said Pennsylvania Secretary of Labor & Industry Kathy Manderino. “We’re looking at significant retirements in the years ahead and business leaders are extremely concerned about finding qualified employees in the coming years. ”
The ReadyNation / Mission: Readiness report details how STEM skills take root in early childhood:
- Disadvantaged children can be 18 months behind their peers in math achievement when they enter kindergarten, and the gap keeps growing. In the first three to five years of life, children’s brains build synapses—the neural connections that support learning and skill development—at the rate of 700 a second.
- High-quality early education directs children into fun, play-based activities that have a purpose. These activities teach real math and science, preparing children to absorb more complex concepts as they grow.
- Early math knowledge predicts later academic achievement, including better reading skills.
- Proper brain development in young children also supports such valued workplace characteristics as focus, perseverance, and teamwork.
Secretary Manderino praised the report saying, “This report motivates Governor Wolf and all of us in his administration to take action.”
Navy Rear Admiral (Ret.) Tom Wilson noted that the military has for years provided high quality early learning for all active-duty military families. He continued that this is not the case with state funded pre-k programs. “Far too few of Pennsylvania’s young learners have access to publicly funded high-quality pre-k, said Wilson. “In Luzerne County, 72 percent of income eligible children do not have access. That’s more than 3,500 (120,000 statewide) income eligible young children each year who will not receive quality learning experiences that position them for academic achievement and workplace success.”
Wilson urged lawmakers to include a $90 million expansion proposal for high-quality pre-kindergarten in the 2016-17 state budget. The $90 million expansion would allow 7,400 more Pennsylvania children to receive high-quality early childhood education, and 6,200 would receive pre-kindergarten for a full year, instead of a half-year.
“If America does not produce enough young people who can meet the STEM needs of both the private sector and the military, both our economy and our national security could suffer,” said Wilson. “Pennsylvania policymakers must help ensure the STEM workforce of tomorrow by growing access to pre-k today.”
ReadyNation is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group of more than 1,400 business leaders nationwide. Together, they aim to strengthen the workforce, business climate, and economy by focusing greater attention on the value of research-proven investments in children’s learning and development.
Mission: Readiness is the nonprofit, nonpartisan national security organization of more than 600 retired generals, admirals and other senior retired military leaders who work to ensure continued American security and prosperity into the 21st century by calling for smart investments in the upcoming generation of American children.
For a copy of the full report, “STEM and Early Childhood – When Skills Take Root,” please visit http://tinyurl.com/PASTEMSKILLS
Media contact: Steve Doster – cell: 717-343-6403; email firstname.lastname@example.org