States Use Workforce Data to Connect Colleges to Careers

States Use Workforce Data to Connect Colleges to Careers

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer October 12, 2017

​A new study highlights how several states are helping students choose what to study depending on the skills local employers say they need.

The report from Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW), a nonprofit research and policy institute based in Washington, D.C., outlines ways that data is being translated to help job seekers and employers better understand the connections between the skills available in local talent pools and what students study in college.

​"Learners and workers need a modern guidance system with clear and comprehensive consumer information that will help them make good college and career decisions," said Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the center and the report's lead author. "Such a system will also help employers frustrated by skills shortages to more precisely identify and hire talented workers, colleges to refresh and strengthen their programs to improve student outcomes, and policymakers to better allocate resources to build strong economies."

The report features examples of eight states integrating data to:

  • Assist schools in developing curricula aligned with the skills and abilities that job seekers will need to succeed with local employers.
  • Help workers understand how to take advantage of postsecondary education and training options as they change jobs and navigate their careers.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Practicing Workforce Planning]

Applying Data—Quickly

​"The challenge is to use local market data that is captured in real time so that students can see the relevance of what they're doing and employers can see how those skills connect to what they need," said Mike Knapp, CEO and co-founder of the job placement platform SkillSmart, which connects employers, job seekers and educational partners to help close identified skills gaps. "It is also important for the states to allow school systems to make curriculum modifications based on local market needs, or for the states to be able to aggregate the real-time skills of local industries into a broader statewide curriculum. There are some good tools out there that walk students through their interests and how those align to the workforce but [that] don't then link to local or regional markets."

In Maryland, for example, state officials implemented several new assessments to ensure that high school graduates are "college or career ready" but neglected to connect the test results to the skills employers said they needed, Knapp said. "While the effort is good, it's still going to take a while for states to go from a theoretical exercise into a practical local activity that shows students how the skills they're learning in school link directly to jobs in their communities." 

Lessons Learned from the States

​The Indiana Chamber of Commerce and Indiana Chamber Foundation created IndianaSkills in 2012 as an online jobs database that allows employers to compare educational requirements by job, view wages paid to similar employees around the state and create job descriptions. Job seekers can use the site to find career opportunities and short-term training programs that best match their skills and interests, are in high demand and offer competitive wages.

State college administrators in Connecticut are using workforce data compiled by the state's labor department to measure demand for different career fields in their local labor markets in order to make decisions about which programs to add, expand, contract or discontinue. The system includes the average earnings for selected jobs and data projecting the annual number of graduates in each field compared to the number of available jobs.

The Center for Employability Outcomes, an applied research center at Texas State Technical College, created an online database in 2014 that incorporates more than 3,000 validated skills for 900 occupations from 1,400 employers across the state. Natural language processing translates course descriptions into occupational skills that are then matched against the skill sets employers are seeking.

Schools can also follow what the Virginia Community College System has done with its Virginia Education Wizard, an online portal that helps students make decisions about careers and postsecondary education and training options after assessing their skills and interests.  

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development created a matchmaking program for job seekers who aren't in college. The Job Skills Transfer Assessment Tool also facilitates workers' transitions from their current jobs to entirely new careers. Organized around 22 job families in the Occupational Information Network (O*NET) database, job seekers can match their current skills to the skills needed for their desired occupations, view annual wages for each occupation, see postsecondary education and training options available to gain the new skills necessary, and scan current job openings.

For example, an electrical engineer would find that his or her occupation has an 86 percent skills match with "computer software engineer" and would be informed that training in computer programming or media production would improve the chances of getting hired in one of those fields. The tool caught the attention of the U.S. Department of Labor, which based its My Next Move career transition website on the Minnesota site.

The featured states are all in the early stages of turning integrated data into usable information, both Carnevale and Knapp said.

"The tools developed to date hold much promise and are a step in the right direction, but if their implementation is piecemeal rather than part of a coordinated statewide process, the gulf between the postsecondary and workforce sectors is likely to remain," Carnevale added. "They also require an active outreach component to attract the intended audience. The good news is that states can borrow ideas from other states and implement tools in any one of these [areas] within a year or two."

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