Emsi Case Study (See Full Archive)
In southwest Virginia, coal miners are facing a grim reality. The coal mining industry has dwindled from over 12,000 jobs in 1990 to less than 4,000 in 2013, changing not only the lives of those workers but also the scope of the local economy. And, since occupations in mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction offer the highest overall earnings in the region, it’s difficult for laid-off workers to find comparable employment.
The population in southwest Virginia is also rapidly aging. Between 2004 and 2014, the number of persons in the area who were 55 or older increased 18.4%, and the number of persons who were 54 and below decreased 9.4%. This trend is particularly troubling because younger workers in the area don’t have the educational training required to replace retiring baby boomers.
These shifts inspired Workforce Investment Area (WIA) One, which encompasses the City of Norton and seven counties in southwest Virginia, to commission a study by Virginia Tech’s Office of Economic Development. Using Emsi data, Virginia Tech prepared a report that analyzes five existing driver industries in the region: 1) coal, 2) manufacturing, 3) health care and social assistance, 4) tourism, and 5) professional, scientific, and technical services.
The report offers in-depth analysis of over 100 distinct occupations within those industries; details job descriptions, related job titles, employment trends, geographic distribution, and age distribution; outlines top knowledge, skill, and ability competencies; and, with special attention to where skills from the coal industry might transfer, provides details about the top 10 compatible jobs for each of the 100 occupations.
Collecting Transferability Data
In an effort to get the clearest picture of the labor market, Virginia Tech paired data from Emsi’s labor market research tool, Analyst, on occupation competencies with qualitative data collected via conversations with employers, site visits at coal mines, and visits to training facilities. “The mix of qualitative and quantitative data helped enhance our understanding of the differences in coal mining processes (i.e., surface and underground) and technologies utilized, and it provided important insights that were necessary to better gauge worker competencies and avenues for possible occupation transferability,” said Scott Tate, senior economic development specialist at Virginia Tech.
The qualitative analysis helped Tate’s team get a handle on concepts that would likely be missed by labor market data. For example, job titles are sometimes used interchangeably and may vary depending on the employer. In the mining industry, a face operative may or may not perform the same work functions as a continuous mining machine operator or a channeling machine operator, Tate said. Site visits helped clarify some of these similarities and differences between companies.
“Emsi enabled us to provide information on compatible occupations in a way that was visually appealing and easily apprehended.”—Scott Tate, Virginia Tech
Then, Analyst’s occupation comparisons and compatibility index helped illuminate shared competencies as well as competency gaps between potentially compatible jobs. “Emsi enabled us to provide information on compatible occupations in a way that was visually appealing and easily apprehended,” Tate said. “The bar graphs on average earnings and growing and declining occupations and industries provided strong visuals and confirmed regional challenges, such as the continued loss of higher-earnings jobs and that the industries that have been increasing have many lower-earnings jobs.”
Because the aging workforce in southwest Virginia poses significant challenges, demographic data was also important to the study. “[Analyst’s] demographic data really struck home with the stakeholders in the region—confirming for them that low educational attainment and an aging workforce are extremely critical factors,” Tate said.
Virginia Tech’s study produced a variety of strategic recommendations for how to strengthen the regional workforce and economy.
Most of the recommendations have to do with closing information gaps. For example, former and transitioning coal miners and their families need better access to information about crossover occupations and local training programs that can help address competency gaps. In addition, educators need information that will improve their ability to teach STEM concepts in the classroom, including ways to design and implement a greater variety of training models that engage both the region’s labor pool and regional employers. Educators also need access to labor market information so they can better advise students toward growing STEM opportunities.
The report suggests that economic developers should align their efforts more closely with emerging and desired industry clusters that draw upon the regional workforce’s strongest competencies and areas of greatest occupational transferability. For example, manufacturing occupations such as extruding and drawing machine setters, operators, and metal and plastic tenders have high levels of compatibility with some coal industry occupations.
If these changes are implemented, they will help address challenges posed by the region’s aging labor force and declining coal mining industry, and they will support regional growth of industry sectors related to manufacturing, health care, and others reliant on a strong STEM workforce.
About the Office of Economic Development at Virginia Tech
Founded in 1872 as a land-grant college, Virginia Tech is now a comprehensive, innovative research university enrolling more than 30,000 students in nine academic Colleges and a Graduate School. Virginia Tech consistently ranks amongst the nation’s top public universities for undergraduate and graduate education.
The Office of Economic Development (OED) connects Virginia Tech faculty, companies, and communities in ways that help create, retain, and enhance the quality of jobs and opportunities around the Commonwealth. OED (www.econdev.vt.edu) provides training, applied research, and technical assistance services to increase clients’ abilities to prudently manage economic change and improve their quality of life.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) or visit www.economicmodeling.com.