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Plugging the Leak in Our Talent Pool Bucket

Friday, June 17, 2016

One of the leaks in our talent pipeline is at the very beginning – in early childhood education. Currently, less than 50 percent of kindergarteners in the state of Indiana will have had a pre-kindergarten experience before kindergarten.

Educators know this – they are on the front lines of education and workforce development. But business leaders and employers may wonder, “What’s the more immediate return on investment for early childhood education?” 

In the United States, 47 percent of the workforce are women, and 43 percent of highly-qualified women leave the workforce either permanently or “off-ramp” for a period of time when they have children. The labor force participation rate of women with children under age six has risen sharply in recent years to 68 percent. 

Now, more than ever before, access to quality child care is essential to the success and retention of our workforce.

That’s where the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership’s Vision 2020 Initiative comes in, and where the Big Goal Collaborative’s work to increase the percentage of residents with high-quality degrees or credentials to 60 percent by 2025 can make a difference.

One way to attract businesses and talent to our region is to ensure employees can find affordable, quality care and learning opportunities for their infants, toddlers and preschool age children. Otherwise, a business and its talent will simply choose somewhere else. Cities and states that have prioritized early learning have reaped enormous benefits.

Atlanta is attracting some big players as of late. Porsche Cars North America Headquarters and its brand new Experience Center have moved to Atlanta- a $100 million facility in May of last year. Mercedes-Benz USA is also choosing Georgia for the USA headquarters, unveiling an impressive rendering of their $93 million new facility in March 2016. 

Countless other companies call Georgia home, including 20 Fortune 500 companies. One of the tools in their talent attraction toolbox has been their statewide, voluntary, pre-kindergarten program called Bright from the Start. Beginning in 1992 as a pilot serving 750 at risk 4-year-olds, it has blossomed into a streamlined system that connects Georgia’s earliest learners from all walks of life and their families to not just pre-K in all 159 counties, but also family services, Summer Lunch programs, and much more. Those efforts, paired with programs that pay up to full tuition for the best and brightest Georgia residents to attend their public universities like the Hope Scholarship, are helping to attract and retain talent across the pipeline.

In Indiana, Governor Mike Pence made early learning a top priority during the 2014 legislative session. In 2015-2016, Indiana’s pilot scholarship program On My Way Pre-K began with five counties, including Allen County. We are now entering the second full year for the program. Just like Georgia, we too can grow our program and see a big impact on both talent attraction and development.

The following facts illustrate the need for investment in early childhood education:

  1. Indiana ranks 44th among states in bachelor degree attainment.
  2. More than 70 percent of community college students require remediation in language arts or math.
  3. Only 86 percent of Hoosier third graders reading at grade level by the end of third grade.
  4. Indiana schools retained 4,500 students in kindergarten in 2014-15 at a cost of $22 million. That’s up from 3,200 and $17 million the year before.

In our 11 county region, and throughout Indiana, 67 percent of children have parents who work full time and need care. This is an issue affecting a huge portion of our workforce, and will continue for decades to come.

It is clear that the immediate workforce need for early childhood care is compelling, and a wise investment, but what about the long term returns?

Past programs have shown that for every dollar invested in early learning, there is a taxpayer savings of at least $8.60 in reduced need for services, including remedial education.

The architecture of a person’s brain is largely developed by age 5, forming the foundation of lifelong learning, behavior and health. Too many of our children are entering kindergarten months, but often years behind in cognitive and social-emotional development. The achievement gap has been detected as early as nine months, and tends to widen exponentially over time.

In our 11 member counties, more than 13,000 children under the age of 5 are facing deprivations associated with living below the poverty level. That is enough children to fill every seat in the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, and still have six school buses of kids lined up outside of the door. With the right kinds and amounts of support early in life, those children can become success stories. Without them, those children are much less likely to be college and career ready graduates. That means employers will continue to scramble to fill the talent bucket with disappointing results.

Reprinted with permission from the authors. Originally posted at:

Vision 2020

Job Market Graphic