How to Use Government Data for Recruiting

By Joseph Coombs Jun 29, 2017
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Taking a deeper dive into government data could help HR professionals with talent acquisition at a time when millions of jobs continue to go unfilled.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which compiles labor market data, should serve as "an initial stop" for talent acquisition specialists to mine data points for statistics such as job openings and employment projections, said Nicole Dessain, founder and principal consultant at talent.imperative, an Evanston, Ill.-based talent experience design consultancy.

"I believe that using data should be part of any robust talent acquisition strategy and an integral part of the discussion with hiring managers," Dessain said. "It is our job as talent advisors to produce data that paints a realistic picture of labor market dynamics and can help provide fact-based answers to questions like 'How long will it take to fill this opening?' and 'How does our salary range compare to that of our key competitors?' "

Data from agencies like the BLS, the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) already offer an important tool that can be used by local governments to attract employers and the highly skilled talent that many companies need.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Recruiting Internally and Externally]

"It's multileveled," said Alex Iams, assistant director for Arlington Economic Development, the economic development agency for Arlington, Va. "For one, this information helps us with our research and to form our strategy, and to inform policy decisions for our elected officials. We may look at the kinds of jobs we have here to set up recruiting for an industry sector, for example, and then set up a marketing campaign around that.

"When a company considers a location, the workforce is always in the top five factors, if not the top three. Being able to tell the story in the numbers is what wins the prospect for us. [The data are] the foundation for all of that work."

Some in the private sector say that HR professionals need to embrace government data as part of a new approach to attracting talent. LiveStories, a Seattle-based civic intelligence platform that provides services for government clients, tracks more than 1,500 government data indicators across 40,000 locations in the United States, "right down to the neighborhood level," said its founder, Adnan Mahmud.

A client may be on the hunt for engineering workers, for example, and LiveStories can tailor a dataset to reveal where the highest concentration of engineers may exist and what they earn on average, among other metrics.

The company started off as a platform for health departments that needed to communicate their data to local audiences, Mahmud said. Most clients spent the bulk of their time downloading the data and cleaning it, leaving little time to analyze and convey the results to the public. Mahmud decided to pick up that portion of the work and grow the company into a civic intelligence platform that companies can use to locate untapped talent pools.

"I think [long-term job vacancies] are a case of resource mismanagement," Mahmud said. "A typical hiring professional is probably not a data analyst, so they have to depend on other people. We thought, what if we go get the data, do all the cleanup work, and then the clients can spend 90 percent of their time finding insights and making decisions? Data can give you a hiring edge. We try to make it more accessible."

The accessibility and quality of that data could change in the future, however, if proposed budget cuts are enacted at several federal agencies. Under President Donald Trump's budget for fiscal year 2018, the U.S. Commerce Department—which oversees the Economics and Statistics Administration, the supervisory agency of the BEA and the Census Bureau—would see a decline in funding from the current $9.2 billion to $7.8 billion. The BEA would receive $97 million, down from the current $105 million, and the proposed funding for the BLS would be flat, as compared with the current fiscal year.

Economists and other observers have also expressed concern about a lack of adequate funds for the 2020 Census data collection.

"What that's going to mean is a reduction of information," said Maurine Haver, president of New York City-based Haver Analytics and chair of the National Association for Business Economics' statistics committee. "The agencies are going to be cutting back on future developments that are very important for understanding our economy."

Joseph Coombs is a freelance writer based in Springfield, Va.

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