Like Chocolate and Peanut Butter: Examining Child Care and the Workforce

Laura Jana small.jpg

Laura Jana
Dr. Laura Jana, a board-certified pediatrician, discusses the science behind the development of a child's brain at the June 21 "Workforce of Today, Workforce of Tomorrow" event.
© Olivier Douliery for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.


A June 21 event brought together experts in early childhood dewvelopment and workforce issues.
Dr. Laura Jana offered insights on the development of a child's brain from birth to age five.

What if I were to tell you that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation recently hosted a summit on workforce development?

This might do nothing to catch your attention.

But what if I were also to tell you that this carefully curated meeting-of-the-minds on June 21 was squarely focused on early childhood? That’s right, early childhood. The Foundation gathered nearly 200 attendees—a striking combination of business and early childhood leaders—in our nation’s capital to get down to discussing the business case for high-quality childcare.

Now, I am well aware that the mixing of business with early childhood, at least at first glance, often strikes people as unusual, unlikely, and for some, downright unsettling. Yet with more than two decades spent as a pediatrician committed to making sure all children have the support, skills and tools they need to succeed in school, work and life, I am both intrigued and excited to find myself sharing a vision with the Chamber Foundation that includes using compelling evidence and real-world outcomes to convince the country that early childhood really is everbody’s business. 

As someone who strongly believes in the concept of “innovation at the intersect” and finding innovative solutions through the fostering of unlikely partnerships, I can’t help but be reminded of the once unlikely combination of chocolate and peanut butter—now an unquestionably dynamic duo!

Here’s but a sampling of what transpired at this business-meets-early-childhood event. First up and taking center stage was the Workforce of Today, Workforce of Tomorrow Report, newly released by the Chamber’s Center for Education and Workforce and presented by lead author, Katharine Stevens, Resident Scholar at AEI. So chock full of useful and highly compelling stats that I could not do it justice within the confines of a single blot post, I will simply share with you just a few examples and then urge you to read the report.

On the business/workforce side, nearly 2/3 of US employers are reportedly unable to fill open positions. Combined with four out of five employers deeming today’s labor pool lacking in the skills needed for business success, it makes clear why U.S. Chamber President & CEO Thomas Donohue has concluded that “America today is a nation of people without jobs and jobs without people.”

This is where early childhood and investing in high quality childcare comes in to play. After all, if a skilled workforce and effective pipeline is what’s needed, then it only stands to reason that one might commit to finding innovative ideas and looking “upstream.”

Turn to world-renowned neuroscientist, Pat Levitt, who offered deep insights into the foundational brain and skill development that takes place in the first five years.

Turn to the equally world-renowned economist, Art Rolnick, who presented his compelling work in the economics of investing early, and you find that he, along with a collaborative of Minnesota’s top business leaders, have already been putting the economic-meets-neuroscience research into action in what has been dubbed the “Minnesota Model.” This group is demonstrating, at scale, that investing early really works—for children, for families, for strategically building a more skilled future workforce, and for yielding a hard-to-match return on investment (which, Rolnick is quick to point out, is primarily of public dollars).

The overall message of this summit was summarized well in the report:  “For American business, advancing high-quality childcare is a winning proposition. It’s a wise investment in America’s future – strengthening business today while building the workforce we’ll depend on tomorrow and for decades to come.” 

As someone who truly believes that what happens in early childhood doesn’t stay in early childhood, but rather lays the groundwork for lifelong success which includes assembling the toolkit of skills that all children will need to succeed in today’s rapidly changing, technology-driven and globally complex world, I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I can think of no better, or more beneficial form of innovation than the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation and the business world joining forces with the world of early childhood to make strategic investments…in child care, our children, our communities, and in our shared vision for the future.