As a world leader in agriculture, a hub for established business and industry, an incubator for new enterprise and a center for cutting-edge research, Nebraska is well positioned to compete in the global economy. But whether we can sustain these advantages in the years ahead depends on our ability to field a highly skilled workforce that meets the needs of Nebraska’s current and future employers. Building that workforce begins with the investments we make in children’s earliest learning opportunities today.
For four consecutive years, an annual statewide survey conducted by the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce & Industry has indicated that a lack of competent, available workers was (is) the issue of greatest concern to a growing number of Nebraska employers. Of the business leaders who participated in the 2015 survey, 45% reported they have difficulty finding candidates who possess the necessary skills or training to fill open positions, an uptick from 39% of survey respondents last year.
To be prepared for the demands of the marketplace, children must arrive at school with the cognitive and behavioral skills that enable them to thrive in the classroom, acquire a job-relevant education and grow the character assets that employers across all sectors of business and industry expect from the state’s labor pool. Young people who enter the job market with the ability to analyze information, apply creativity to complex problems, adapt to new challenges, collaborate and communicate effectively are more likely to thrive as productive workers, achieve higher earnings and raise the caliber of the state’s workforce overall. The path to these qualities begins with children’s earliest learning experiences.
In 2014, the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce & Industry identified early childhood initiatives as one of four principal strategies for addressing the lack of skilled professionals in the state’s labor pool. The intellect and character traits employers look for in prospective workers—including problem-solving skills, self-discipline and the ability to work constructively with others—are the same skills that are rooted in children’s earliest cognitive and character development.
If Nebraska is to be ready for the economic, technological, demographic and cultural changes ahead, we cannot accept that 42% of our youngest children are at risk of failing in school and life. Research confirms that quality early developmental experiences at home, in child care and in preschool cultivate the qualities we expect in our businesses and communities. This is why Nebraska employers stand in support of public-private investments in the earliest stage of the state’s talent pipeline—the first five years of life.
Investing in the care and development of our youngest children will have far-reaching effects on their preparedness for the opportunities and responsibilities ahead.