EMSI CASE STUDY (See Full Archive)
Years of planning and research culminated in January 2013 with the launch of Northeastern University’s Seattle campus. Why would the private research institution set up shop 2,500 miles away from its home in Boston? Part of the answer lies in what its rigorous analysis of education supply and workforce demand in Seattle and Washington State made abundantly clear.
Background: Seattle’s ‘Achilles’ Heel’
Tayloe Washburn has been a distinguished lawyer and civic leader in Seattle for 30 years. He knows the city well and understands its many strengths – the leading tech and aerospace companies that are headquartered there, the start-up firms it has cultivated, the quality of life it offers. But Seattle’s Achilles’ heel, as Washburn puts it, is that the region hasn’t been able to produce enough graduates to meet the voracious demand for talent from the likes of Microsoft, Boeing, and Amazon.
Companies of all sizes in Seattle and Washington need skilled workers with backgrounds in health science, advanced manufacturing, and especially computer science. But a recent EMSI analysis showed that in 2012 colleges and universities in the Seattle metro actually conferred 13% fewer computer and IT-related degrees than they did in 2003, matching a national trend of fewer tech workers entering the market and more companies going overseas to find talent.
“And for us in this region,” Washburn said, “that’s a challenge because that’s a cost of business and a practical problem which could endanger the value that we have as a region with these companies here.”
Washburn is now dean and CEO of Northeastern University – Seattle, a satellite campus of the private Boston-based institution that’s focused on providing professional education (graduate and Ph.D. degree offerings). Seattle is a natural fit for Northeastern for many reasons, but senior strategist and market development officer Sean Gallagher said “a big part of why we located here” is the shortfall in new tech talent in the region and the specific degrees it could offer to help fill the gap.
The university came to that conclusion after an exhaustive, data-centered market analysis.
Northeastern was established in 1898 in Boston, and since has become recognized around the world for its cooperative education program and comprehensive online presence. It opened a campus in Charlotte in October 2011, and its options for another campus were plentiful. Gallagher and his team compared Seattle to Atlanta, Austin, the Bay Area, and other regions.
Said Gallagher, “We wanted to bring the university to regions that had unmet needs for professional, master’s-level education, and you can answer that question essentially by looking at the supply and demand. We wanted to go to innovation-oriented cities and regions that were diversified and healthy from an economic perspective, and also had high concentrations of important global employers because of our cooperative education program and our desire to partner with companies, and those types of interests.”
The focal point for Northeastern’s rigorous market analysis is always data. From the start of its investigation into Seattle, the gap in educational output and workforce demand in the metro area and statewide stuck out – especially in tech fields (see chart below using EMSI supply-and-demand data).
“In Washington, it was just incredibly clear,” Gallagher noted. “The state, business leadership, various groups had documented prior to our investigation that they had a gap. They were not creating enough degrees. There’s not enough funding in key areas that are growing and they’d like to grow. So we see ourselves fitting into that fabric as a complementary providers, as a new private research university option that the region lacked before.”
Maud Daudon, president of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, put it this way to The New York Times last year: “Northeastern’s presence will help to close the gap between businesses trying to fill positions, and trained, qualified candidates available to go to work.”
How EMSI Fits In
Gallagher and his team had used BLS data and other labor market information tools, even real-time data sources. But after zeroing in on Seattle, they found EMSI’s labor market data research tool, Analyst, and soon realized it provided more depth and detail than other data sources.
“What EMSI gives you is a detailed view, something that’s current,” Gallagher said. “You can look at degree conferrals alongside projected and recent demand for an occupation. So we could zoom in on computer science. We could look at aspects of engineering. Where Analyst really came in handy for us was in developing the portfolio of degree offerings. The overriding philosophy in all of this was that it is industry aligned and very market driven. There are needs that employers have, and we were going back to our portfolio of offerings as a university and mapping those into a regional market.”
“Where Analyst really came in handy for us was in developing the portfolio of degree offerings. The overriding philosophy in all of this was that it is industry aligned and very market driven. There are needs that employers have, and we were going back to our portfolio of offerings as a university and mapping those into a regional market.” — Sean Gallagher, senior strategist and market development officer, Northeastern University
After settling on Seattle, Northeastern had to plan out degree offerings, courses, and programs, and then get approval from the state of Washington. It needed to get a sense of the demand in Seattle and the state for the offerings it was considering – something it was unfamiliar with as an outside institution, Gallagher said – and it wanted the process to be centered on hard numbers.
This is where EMSI’s blending of labor market information and education data (by program, award level, and institution) helped.
“Discipline by discipline, field by field, we could go in and get a snapshot of, ‘OK, we have two or three engineering programs that we’re considering. What would the highest demand or best value for the region’s programs be? Who else is offering those? How quickly is this going to grow,’ ” Gallagher recalled. “We did the same thing in healthcare, in technology, in business.”
A Partnering Spirit
Northeastern doesn’t view itself as a competitor to the University of Washington, Seattle University, or any other local or state institution. Rather, Northeastern is “starting out taking a very collaborative approach,” Washburn noted. The institution is working with, among others, UW on global health and Seattle U on computer science/STEM initiatives.
Washburn is also volunteering with the Washington Technology Industry Association (WTIA) workforce development commission to come up with solutions to the tech worker gap in the state. WTIA, a trade organization, includes 600 member companies with 100,000 tech workers. It’s working with colleges and universities to increase the education pipeline through co-ops programs and internships to give firms short-term help. WTIA has supported state legislation that would allow high school students to take computer science courses as an alternative to math, while also working with state community colleges to expand their ability to offer bachelor’s degrees.
“We’re trying to come up with five to six ways to attack the problem,” Washburn said. “And there’s a precedent for that. About a year ago, we had the same challenge in aerospace, where it was an engineers and machinists gap. And by following a somewhat similar process, we got additional federal funds, we got additional state funds, and we changed a lot of structural stuff and Boeing’s happy. They’re building their 737 here.”
Northeastern has invested for the long-term in Seattle, which is why partnering with companies and other institutions is vital – and why working on ways to bolster Seattle’s already-strong economy is a driving focus for Washburn, and for Northeastern.
“We as an institution and me personally need to address all the other stakeholders of different types to tackle this problem while Seattle still is in an advantageous position,” he said. “Because those sweet spots don’t stay there naturally, and if you don’t always try to stay a few steps ahead, before you know it you’ll be behind.”
Emsi 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.
Photos courtesy of Northeastern University