Illinois STEM Growth: Illinois Science & Technology Coalition 2017 Talent Index

| Matt Bragg, Program Manager, Illinois Science & Technology Coalition

From basic digital literacy to advanced computer science, digital skills are often out of reach for the young people who need them most. In a world being transformed by technology, all youth should have the opportunity to develop the creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills gained by learning computer science. Limited access to digital skills threatens to widen the income gap between those who have the skills to succeed in the 21st century and those who do not. To reduce the gap, all young people need the opportunity to learn computer science, especially those least likely to have access. According to, in 2016, there were 530,472 open computing jobs in the United States but only 42,969 computer science graduates to fill them.

Microsoft has partnered with the Illinois Science and Technology Coalition and Institute for several years, as a Member of the Coalition and as a sponsor of the Institute’s STEM Challenge for high school students. I have also had the pleasure of serving on the ISTC/I board and currently serve as board chair. Following is an overview of the recently released Illinois Innovation Index STEM Talent report, which outlines the growth and challenges of ensuring a skilled workforce in Illinois. Many thanks to the entire ISTC staff for your research and analysis.

— Shelley Stern Grach, Director of Civic Engagement

One of the main pillars of the Illinois Science & Technology Coalition (ISTC) is to provide insightful data on Illinois’ innovation economy. Toward this goal, the ISTC publishes the Illinois Innovation Index, a quarterly report that quantifies and benchmarks the state’s performance in several key innovation areas. This fall, ISTC is proud to release its 2017 Talent Index, which highlights the exciting growth of STEM talent in Illinois.

When our analysis of STEM talent began five years ago, the state lagged the national average for degree production, ranking 43rd among states for the share of college degrees awarded in STEM disciplines. In 2016, Illinois rose to ninth. This transformational growth, especially in health and computer science disciplines, has positioned the state as a national leader for STEM talent.

Computer science (CS) degrees have seen unprecedented growth in Illinois, reaching a record high in 2016. The state has more than doubled its production of CS degrees over the last five years, and is the second largest producer in the country. Aiding this growth is the number of international and immigrant students in the field. A staggering 49.9 percent of CS degrees were awarded to international and immigrant students in 2016.

Illinois’ share of STEM jobs lags the national average, but the state is closing the gap — with growth in these jobs outpacing the national average over the past five years. This growth is especially strong in computer-related fields, where growth has exceeded five percent annually. Overall, STEM jobs closely mirror the state’s talent production, with health and computer occupations most prevalent.

This year, thanks to insightful data from LinkedIn, the Index takes an in-depth look at Chicago’s software engineering workforce. One of the most in-demand jobs in today’s economy, software engineers design and build the software used in nearly every corner of the economy. The market for software engineering talent in Chicago is unique, with professionals working in a wide variety of industries and staying with their employers longer than in other regions. Though the city loses talent to industry hotbeds like San Francisco and Seattle, Chicago retains more talent than most cities, and is the top destination for software engineers in the Midwest.

The growth of STEM degrees in Illinois presents a tremendous opportunity for the state’s economy, which has lagged the national average for jobs in STEM fields. To increase access to STEM talent, the state must look to capitalize on nonresident students at in-state universities through support of federal policy that would allow this talent to stay and work in the state. Illinois’ universities should also look to partner with employers to create internship opportunities for their students, which have been shown to increase graduate retention. Lastly, with STEM skills becoming more widespread within the modern workforce, the state should look to further incorporate its STEM talent into traditional industries of strength.

Matt Bragg is Program Manager for Data and Policy at the Illinois Science & Technology Coalition (ISTC).  Matt is responsible for overseeing all aspects of the Illinois Innovation Index – the ISTC’s quarterly data publication tracking and benchmarking the state’s innovation performance.  In this role, he manages relationships with Index partners to collect unique data and provide valuable insight on the state’s STEM talent, R&D, and entrepreneurship ecosystems.  Matt also oversees ISTC’s policy advocacy efforts in Springfield and D.C., which focus on economic development through effective research & commercialization, entrepreneurship, and immigration policies.

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