Fayetteville Technical Community College (FTCC) is a leading example of the success educational institutions can achieve by comprehensively integrating labor market data into their decision-making. FTCC uses the complete spectrum of Emsi products to bring labor market data to bear on its work, starting with the Economic Impact Study several years ago and quickly adding Career Coach (as we wrote in part one last week). In the second of three parts, we examine how Analyst, job postings, and the Gap Analysis Report have helped FTCC succeed as an example of comprehensive data use. Download the complete study in PDF form here.
Using Analyst for Program Review and More
According to President Dr. Larry Keen, FTCC initially took an interest in Analyst because of how important Career Coach had become to its operations. “We’ve moved Career Coach into the decision processes throughout the college. Subsequently we started thinking: ‘If Career Coach is good for that, the question is whether we are doing the right things to serve our community.’ ” Asking those questions led Dr. Keen, along with members of his staff, faculty, and administrative team, to consider how Emsi’s other products could help.
Armed with funds from a multi-college grant, FTCC acquired Analyst and discovered that it filled a need the college had felt for some time: the need for complete, reliable data. Using the tool to gather data on relationships between the college’s programs and local occupations, the college’s planning council “created a useful data table that reported which occupations, which jobs, and which college training programs correlated directly to those jobs,” said Carl Mitchell, FTCC’s VP of Human Resources/Workforce Development and Institutional Effectiveness. “The data showed significant potential for increased job opportunities in the local area. More importantly, the data showed which jobs were going to remain stable and which ones showed likelihood of declining. That data was powerful for strategic planning purposes.”
The college’s previous means of gathering data were frustrating and often inefficient. “Program reviews were too brief, didn’t go into enough detail, and programs had to dig through paper files and records to get to data,” Mitchell reported. But with Analyst, access to quick and reliable data became possible.
Senior Vice President Dr. Dave Brand recognized that good, thorough data was key to making program review decisions, and so he charged the Institutional Effectiveness Office to produce the data electronically and include it in the program reviews prior to releasing the template to faculty and department advisors. “Programs have to analyze the data and project growth and their equipment needs,” he said. “They can see what the growth projection is for up to 10 years in the future. They can compare those projections for job growth against how many graduates their programs are producing to meet that expected demand.”
“Emsi was a good part of us being able to respond to Dr. Brand’s request,” Mitchell said. “Now when the program review template is released, several years of historical data for each program are already included in the plan when they receive it. The faculty and staff greatly appreciate the data being preloaded in their program reviews.”
Being Proactive With the Gap Analysis Report
In addition to the extensive data it gets from Analyst, FTCC is now also using Emsi’s Gap Analysis Report to make better program management decisions. “We began using the Gap Analysis Report for each program,” Keen said. “Program supervisors get a document that speaks specifically to their program. It really helps them with the planning process, knowing what they’re talking about for future job projections and what changes are needed to match graduations from their programs to meet that demand.”
FTCC has discovered that making program decisions demands quality data, data that has enough credibility to support large-scale strategies. This data also supports decisions about where FTCC should expand, as well as the areas not likely to grow in the future. As Brand pointed out: “It’s hard to start a program or expand a program when you don’t know for sure if there is a need for it. The fact that those numbers [from the Gap Analysis Report] are there adds a level of credibility for us.”
The Gap Analysis Report contributes several other crucial data points to the department-level conversations. For one thing, it allows the college to see how many of the completers for any program in the region are from FTCC. Seeing the importance of its own programs for filling regional demand is helpful for each program’s worth. But that same data also helps the college to measure what their competition is up to. “When a need is being met by other schools,” Brand pointed out, “it’s hard to justify adding a program in that area.” At the same time, the data identifies areas in which other schools may be overburdened, and where FTCC may be able to take some of the load.
Data has proved useful for day-to-day decisions at FTCC, serving as a foundation for well-informed action. Keen said that moving from anecdotal reasoning to relying on facts has been a major improvement. “Data goes into making day-to-day decisions about resources. I used to go in and ask questions, and people used to tell me what they thought. Now I go in and there’s information that says what we should or shouldn’t be doing, and here are the reasons why.”
Data also helps Keen evaluate claims from outside the college. “If we’re hearing something from another source, some report from some guru somewhere, I’ll ask how that compares to what we know. And we’ll pull up a report from Analyst with a point-by-point comparison to what’s being said. We can make more informed decisions and people have embraced it to the point where they’re starting to do data collection and analysis on their own, which I think is important.”
With that goal in mind—individual mastery of Analyst—FTCC has trained 21 members of the staff, faculty, and administrators in Emsi’s Certification program, ensuring that they are familiar with the data, where it comes from, and what it can (and can’t) do. The college brought Certification leaders from Emsi to the college to lead the training process in person, and found the process enormously helpful. “We wanted to have faculty, staff, and administrators with an earned certification located strategically across the entire college,” said Brand, “so that if somebody needed quick information out of Analyst that is more detailed than what they could get out of Career Coach, there would be somebody close by they could get to—and quickly.”
Finding Direction for Finding Grants
The data in Analyst has also proved crucial in competing for grants. Before FTCC applied Analyst data to grant writing, the college’s process for finding grants and determining how to apply for them was haphazard at best. “When I first got here, we’d sit down at this table and ask, ‘What should we do a grant on?’ ” explained Jim Lott, workforce director at FTCC. “We’d say, ‘Oh yeah, here’s a good grant opportunity, $2 million, $5 million; what can we, or should we, do it on?’ And I’d go get some state data, but that was usually a year old and would be for too large of a region, like 25 counties or the whole state, so it was almost a complete guess.”
That guesswork-based approach has become a thing of the past. “Now we use data to find the need, and then we look for grants to fill it,” Lott said. “All of a sudden the data was sharp and pointed to a need matched to a grant. I now feel confident.”
Using Analyst data enables the FTCC staff to attack grant writing with purpose and direction. Now they are able to prioritize programs that need grant funding and track down appropriate funding opportunities. In Lott’s words: “We’re going to the table each time, saying: ‘We know that we need to fill this gap. Now let’s look for a grant that would help us fill it,’ instead of saying, ‘Oh, here’s a grant; what should we write to try to apply for it?’” In Brand’s words: “We can actually identify the need at our college and use those numbers from Analyst to find funding resources for a well-documented need.”
The extent to which data is feeding into FTCC’s operations has begun to attract attention from others in the region. In the third part of this case study, we’ll take a look at how the college has adopted responsibility for local workforce boards, and examine the role that labor market data plays in this task. We will also share a few of the college’s plans for the future.
Economic Modeling Specialists Intl., a CareerBuilder company, turns labor market data into useful information that helps organizations understand the connection between economies, people, and work. Using sound economic principles and good data, we build user-friendly services that help educational institutions, workforce planners, and regional developers (such as WIBs, EDOs, chambers, utilities) build a better workforce and improve the economic conditions in their regions. For more information, email Josh Wright (email@example.com) or visit www.economicmodeling.com.